West Virginia: Late-Twentieth-Century Developments

Late-Twentieth-Century Developments

Economic conditions improved during the 1960s, as federal aid poured into the state (in part owing to the rise to power in the U.S. Senate of Robert C. Byrd), and massive efforts were made to attract new industry. Since the 1960s the ravages of surface mining have been a major political issue; recently, the practice of leveling mountains and filling creeks with slag has come under fire. In the 1970s, West Virginia's coal-based economy flourished as energy prices rose dramatically; but in the 1980s energy prices fell and employment in the mines rapidly declined as West Virginia suffered through one of the worst economic periods in its history. By 1983 the state's unemployment rate had risen to 21% as its manufacturing base also slumped. West Virginia's population declined 8% from 1980 to 1990. It rose slightly from 1990 to 2000, as a modest recovery based largely on foreign investment and further development of the tourist industry took place, but the state still ranked last in U.S. housing construction.

Gaston Caperton, elected governor in 1988 and reelected in 1992, was succeeded by Republican Cecil H. Underwood, elected in 1996, but Underwood lost to Democrat Bob Wise in 2000. In 2004, Democrat Joe Manchin was elected to the office; he was reelected in 2008, and subsequently was elected to the U.S. Senate (2011- ). In 2011 Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat who became acting governor after Manchin resigned, was elected governor; he was reelected in 2012. In 2016 wealthy businessman Jim Justice won the office; although a registered Republican, he ran as a Democrat, but switched back to his original party affiliation soon after taking office, in July 2017, supporting then-President Donald Trump. Justice was reelected in 2020.

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