CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- More than half of West Virginians' income growth over the past three decades went to the state's top 1 percent of taxpayers -- one of the highest rates of unequal income growth in the nation, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report -- "The Increasingly Unequal States of America: Income Inequality by State, 1917 to 2011" -- was released by the Economic Analysis and Research Network, a nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C.
In West Virginia today, the average income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers is 17.7 times greater than the average income earned by bottom 99 percent, according to the report.
"West Virginians are working harder and producing more, but are receiving a smaller piece of the pie," said Sean O'Leary, an analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "Raising the state's minimum wage is one step we can take to not only help workers but boost the state's economy."
The West Virginia House of Delegates recently passed a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.75 an hour by Jan. 1, 2016. The bill, which would increase wages for 127,000 workers, is now before the state Senate.
According to the new report, in four states -- Nevada, Wyoming, Michigan and Alaska -- the top 1 percent experienced rising incomes between 1979 and 2011, while the average income of the other 99 percent of state residents fell.
In another 15 states, including West Virginia, the top 1 percent got between 50 percent and 84 percent of all income growth during those years. In West Virginia, the top 1 percent took home 53.3 percent of all income gains during between 1979 and 2011.
"The lopsided growth in U.S. incomes between 1979 and 2007 resulted in a rise in every state in the top 1 percent's share of income," the report states.
"This rise in income inequality represents a sharp reversal of the patterns of income growth that prevailed in the half century following the beginning of the Great Depression; the share of income held by the top 1 percent declined in every state but one between 1928 and 1979."
Widespread collective bargaining -- in industries including manufacturing, transportation (trucking, airlines and railroads), telecommunications and construction -- played a major role in low unemployment levels and economic improvements during those years.