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Nearly half of state residents lack necessary savings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Nearly half of all state residents do not have enough savings to cover expenses for at least three months if they were to lose their jobs or suffer costly medical emergencies, according to a new report.

On Wednesday, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a national nonprofit organization, released its 2013 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, which found that 47 percent of West Virginian households are living in "liquid asset poverty."

 That means they do not have enough savings to fall back on if they suffer a job loss or other catastrophic event and cannot work for at least three months.

The report said a family of four needs to have more than $5,762 in savings to get out of liquid asset poverty. That is just one measure of whether people make enough to meet basic needs.

About 15.5 percent of West Virginia households are asset poor, meaning their savings or the value of their durable assets are not enough to cover three months of expenses.

Home and car values are not included in the calculations.

Officials believe it still is a good measure of the financial health of residents, considering most would avoid selling their home or car to pay normal expenses.

"Liquid asset poverty is real and it is a challenge to West Virginians," said Sarah Vintorini, outreach manager for the West Virginia Alliance for Sustainable Families.

Vintorini's organization is one of several - including the Dunbar-based Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action, or KISRA - that is working to help individuals and families become more financially secure.

"Financial stability and independence is the linchpin to overall family stability," Vintorini said.

She and others are working to teach people to build not only a comfortable safety net, but also to develop behaviors that can lead to greater savings.  They try to work to help families save money for college, buy a home or enjoy a comfortable retirement.

"It's really the dream for families to turn that safety net into a ladder to greater success," she said.

But she admitted people have to learn to start small. She said sometimes the focus is to help people get out from under heavy debt burdens before they begin devoting money to savings.

The scorecard also ranked the state in other areas, including home ownership.

West Virginia actually boasts a 72.3 percent home ownership rate, ranking third in the nation and well ahead of the national rate of 64.6 percent.

But officials said that number is somewhat deceiving.

KISRA chief executive Michelle Foster said the survey found that the state is dead last in the percentage of high-cost mortgages at 7.22 percent.

"We are at the bottom of the heap with over 7 percent of mortgage loans being high-cost, sub-prime loans," Foster said.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said that high rate is a significant hindrance to the state economy since most sub-prime mortgages payments are being made to out-of-state lending companies.

"That means people are spending money in other directions and that wealth is not staying here," he said.

Boettner also said that West Virginia's high home ownership rate is somewhat deceiving since it measures the quantity but not the quality of homes owned.

He said the state's median home value is much lower than the national average.

According to U.S. Census data, the median value of an owner-occupied home in West Virginia is $96,500, almost half the national rate of $186,200.

Boettner said West Virginia also is one of the top states for mobile home ownership.

"About 17 percent of our housing stock is mobile homes," he said.

To combat the state's high liquid asset poverty rate, the Corporation for Enterprise Development recommended a series of policy changes to boost individuals' financial well-being.

Those recommendations included increasing the minimum wage, adopting a state Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing block grant funding for small business and microenterprise development and increasing state regulations governing mortgage companies.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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