If West Virginia is “Dying,” then what is going on in New Mexico?

Jul 7, 2017

Commentary: The Rio Grande Foundation has often noted the historic similarities between New Mexico and West Virginia. So, a recent article in US News and World Report, the title of which was: “To Be Young in a Dying State” and containing an associated article: “West Virginia is Dying and Trump Can’t Save it.”

Comparing New Mexico and West Virginia, it is hard to say that West Virginia is in worse shape than New Mexico. Yes, New Mexico continues to see slight population growth while West Virginia is losing population, but how much of that is simply due to New Mexico’s superior weather inducing retirees to move here?

When it comes to unemployment, West Virginia’s policy reforms seem to be having a tremendous, positive impact (dropping to 4.5 percent) whereas New Mexico’s rate remains elevated:


And then there is “workforce participation.” You can find the original data here and charted below. Clearly, West Virginia has long struggled with getting more of its citizens into productive work (as has New Mexico albeit to a lesser extent), but the situation in West Virginia seems to be improving steadily. New Mexico has improved a bit as well (all states hit a low point during the Great Recession), but not as much.

What will happen moving forward? It is hard to say, but West Virginia is continuing to reform itself while New Mexico is not. If that pattern continues, I expect that over time West Virginia will outpace New Mexico economically and it will no longer be viewed as a “dying state.”