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W.Va. should adopt a right-to-work law

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist, ran for office to make his state more business-friendly, but the Republican said right-to-work legislation was "not on my agenda." He considered it too divisive.

Yet this week, Michigan, in an effort to attract investment and reduce poverty, became the 24th state to enact a right-to-work law. Michiganders who do not want to join a union will no longer be forced to join one or pay dues to get or keep jobs.

A proposal once considered a non-starter is now law in almost half of the 49 states that West Virginia competes with to win investment, economic growth, jobs, young people, income gains and lower poverty levels.

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research has the evidence that people in right-to-work states do better in many ways:

* Job growth: "According to the most recent available annual U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data, between 2001 and 2011, total private-sector employment in right-to-work states as a group increased by 12.5 percent, compared to an increase of just 3.5 percent for non-right-to-work states as a group, and a decline of 5.9 percent for Michigan alone."

* Population growth: In 1970, 28.5 percent of Americans lived in right-to-work states, according to a 2010 study by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder. By 2008, that had risen to nearly 40 percent.

Vedder quantified "a huge migration of persons" from forced unionization states to states that allow "greater personal liberty with respect to employment."

West Virginia knows this from the losing end, a trend that has shattered families and cost the state some of the skilled work force its employers desperately need.

* Growth in disposable income: According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, adjusted for cost of living, disposable personal income per capita was $36,938 . . . $2,500 higher than in forced-unionization states as a group."

* Reduction of poverty: The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan reported in 2007 that between 1969 and 2000, poverty rates "dropped by 6.7 [percentage points] on average in right-to-work states, compared with a reduction of 2 [percentage points] in non-right-to-work states.

In some states, Americans are scrambling to rebuild  the nation from the ground up. West Virginia should be one of those states.

There's an ocean of capital out there. Corporations will invest it once there is certainty about energy and tax policy in the states.

Some states are positioning themselves to get on the short list for investment. Others are not.

States that do not will not get as much investment as they could, and will continue to lose jobs, income and young people - and gain poverty and dependence - for decades to come.

West Virginia's political leaders should move now.

There is no prize, economically or politically, for being the last state on the short list.


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