West Virginia was one of only nine states that has had any rise in median income since 2000. Most of the others - North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Louisiana - also have economies heavily dependent on fossil fuel production.
Christiadi, an economist at West Virginia University and a liaison to the Census Bureau, said that West Virginia's natural resources were a big reason why growth here has been slightly better than the nation as a whole.
"To begin with, the impact of the great recession was significantly milder on the West Virginia economy than the U.S.," Christiadi, who goes by only one name, said in an email. "The stronger economic growth in West Virginia ... was primarily driven by strong growth in natural resources and mining, the natural gas industry in particular."
Poverty, also less endemic nationally than in West Virginia, has nonetheless grown by more than 30 percent in the U.S. since 2000. Nationwide 49 million people live in poverty, about 16 percent of the country, and more than 21 million people live in extreme poverty.
While West Virginians and most Americans have failed to see their finances improve since the recession, corporate profits have set all-time highs. Corporate profits, after taxes, bottomed out at about $650 billion in late 2008 during the heat of the economic crisis, according to Federal Reserve data. But by 2009 they had regained all the lost ground and in the first quarter of 2013 corporate profits passed $1.8 trillion, nearly triple the profits of four years ago.
Ron Haskins, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former economic advisor to President George W. Bush, sees this trend of growing corporate profits but relatively stagnant median incomes as likely to continue.
"You can no longer just graduate from high school and get a job for $50,000 a year," Haskins said. "The people who have below a four-year degree have not seen their income increase, on average, in 30 years. What's going on here is not unusual, it's just a continuing trend."
In West Virginia, the poverty rate for people with a four-year college degree was 4.3 percent, less than a quarter than the rate for the population as a whole. For those with less than a high school degree, it was 31 percent.
"It's been five years since the recession, and too many West Virginians remain living in poverty," O'Leary said in a news release. "State leaders need to think of these families and their children when setting the state's priorities."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.