West Virginia stands out among the rest of the nation, and not just for its mountainous terrain. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, it was proclaimed a state by President Abraham Lincoln, the only state in the nation to be named by presidential proclamation and one of only two states to have once been part of another state – in this case, Virginia. Nicknamed the Mountain State, West Virginia has made its mark in other ways too. The state was the first state in the south to offer schooling to African American students, the first to organize a golf club and the first to lay out brick streets. Some of West Virginia's firsts also changed the nation’s economic landscape: it was the first state to introduce a sales tax and the first to use advertising.
West Virginia officials tout it as a place where you can go whitewater rafting in the morning, take in an art exhibit in the afternoon and attend a symphony concert in the evening. With expansive forests like the Monongahela National Forest, beautiful mountain gorges like the New River Gorge and rivers like the Ohio, Elk and Potomac, West Virginia has a lot to offer nature lovers. Yet its historic cities, such as Charleston and Huntington in the southeast and Wheeling and Morgantown in the north, offer an interesting counterbalance to the state's largely rural setting, epitomized in the John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Played after every football and basketball game at West Virginia University (WVU), it was officially named one of four state songs in 2014.
The 10th smallest state in terms of land area, West Virginia is the 13th smallest state based on its population of over 1.8 million residents. That last figure hasn’t changed much since the early 2000s, however, as West Virginia was the only state in the U.S. with a declining population between 2010 and 2015. Furthermore, between 2014 and 2015, the state lost the most residents of any state proportionally, with decreases in 39 of its 55 counties. One reason for this reduction is the shrinking demand for coal, which has resulted in lowered coal production and fewer jobs in the mines. Yet there is one region of the state with a growing populace – the Eastern Panhandle, where many residents commute to jobs in or around Washington, D.C., the seventh largest metro area in the country.
In early 2016, the median household income in West Virginia was $41,043 – roughly $12,000 below the U.S. median - with approximately 17% of the population living below the poverty line. The state also had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation in December 2015. Together, these figures place West Virginia among the 10 poorest states in the U.S. The Mountain State also ranks in the bottom 10 states for educational attainment, with 83% of residents earning high school diplomas and just 18% holding bachelor’s degrees. Approximately 93% of West Virginians are white, 3% are black, 1% are Hispanic and 1% are multiracial.
In accordance with the low incomes, real estate prices are also low for the most part. The median home value statewide as of early 2016 was $102,689, roughly $80,000 less than the national median. In Charleston, the state capital and largest city with a metro area population of over 220,000 people, the median home value within the city limits was somewhat higher at $143,763. In Shepherdstown, the most expensive city in state thanks to its prime Eastern Panhandle location, the median home value was $286,370. Falling in the middle, Morgantown, home to WVU and its more than 22,000 students, had a median home value of $190,452.