When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the portion now known as West Virginia broke off to form its own state. Admitted in 1863, West Virginia was the only state created from breaking apart from a Confederate state during the Civil War and played a key role as a border state.
During Reconstruction, the new 35th state’s mineral resources industries boomed, and logging and coal mining both remain important parts of the state’s economy today. West Virginia also played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution with the development of bituminous coal, a cheaper alternative to wood.
Located in the Appalachian region, West Virginia has some of the most rugged land in the country. The state’s rolling mountains, hills and valleys earned it the nickname of The Mountain State, and it is well-known for its range of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and whitewater rafting.
Most of the level land lies along the major rivers, which include the Ohio, Guyandotte and Greenbrier Rivers. Only nine states are smaller than West Virginia in total area.
West Virginia’s economy has depended so heavily on its mineral resources that declining coal production and low energy prices in recent years have seriously hurt the state. Today, mining safety and ecological concerns are major challenges to West Virginia, which still produces the majority of the coal used in other states.
Despite an improvement over the last year, the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. After taking a hit in 2016, mining and logging jobs increased about 5 percent in 2017. Jobs in the construction industry also grew in West Virginia, while employment in information services and trade, transportation and utilities saw declines. U.S. jobs have increased by 2 percent, while West Virginia has seen almost a 1 percent dip in employment, with the sharpest decreases in mining and logging jobs.
The median household income, $43,385 in 2016 was the second lowest in the country behind Mississippi, and the poverty rate was just under 18 percent, much higher than the national average of 14.1 percent. Some of the poorest counties in the U.S. are in West Virginia – Doddridge County’s per capita income is only $19,703.
While the high school graduation rate is roughly on par with the national average, only 20.8 percent of West Virginians over 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
West Virginia University is one of the original land-grant universities and is well-known for its athletics and social scenes. The state is also home to West Liberty University and Marshall University.
The population is 92 percent white, and only 1.7 percent of West Virginians were born outside the U.S. Accordingly, just 2.5 percent speak a language other than English in their homes.
The state does boast a higher than average number of veterans, with 9.5 percent of residents having served in the military. At 42, West Virginia has had one of the oldest median ages in the country for years.
The state is home to about 1.8 million residents, and was the only state to experience a population percentage decline – losing almost 22,000 people – from 2010 to 2016. The most populous cities include the capital, Charleston, and Huntington, Parkersburg, Morgantown, home of WVU, and Wheeling.
West Virginia is one of the most religious states in the country, with 69 percent of adults saying they are highly religious and 46 percent attending worship services at least weekly. Though the state is primarily Democratic at the state and local level, it has given its five electoral votes to the Republican candidate in the last five presidential elections.