Friday, December 5, 2008

Home to West Virginia

My friend Amy has a really good post about coming home after a visit to WV. She talks about how hard it is to leave family and the familiarity of our home state after a great visit. It's such a wonderful state. We WV Expats certainly know how hard it is to leave.

She mentions this website Home to West Virginia in her post. It's a good idea. Maybe it will help some people return to WV.

Drawing on the experience that my husband and I had, with deciding to go back and realizing it wasn't possible for us, I can tell you there are many things to consider when trying to get back to WV.

The housing market is so bad right now. We own our home. Well, really the bank does, but we pay the mortgage. :) One of the reasons moving wasn't possible for us was we didn't want to get stuck paying a mortgage in GA while living in a rental (or with family) in WV. Amy has written about her experiences with that.

We live in an older neighborhood. Our house was built in 1986. When new subdivisions are popping up all around you, with builders enticing buyers to buy new homes, selling your older home is even more difficult. Granted, the popping has stopped as of late, but within a two mile radius of our home, there are 2 new subdivisions with new homes no one is buying. Within our subdivision, the number of homes that have for sale or rent signs on them is significant. The odds of finding a buyer for our home were definitely against us.

Of course, we hear from some in WV that the real estate market is not as bad as elsewhere. My brother-in-law just bought a house and sold his home in a remarkably short time. A matter of a month or two, I believe. His problem was finding a home to buy. His agent told him there is a shortage of supply. I tend to think it might depend on where you live in WV, but I'm not there, so I can't really say.

Another issue we encountered when thinking about a return to WV was the low pay that my husband was offered for his job in WV last year. I was a little surprised by it, because in my experience of WV the cost of living there and living in GA is not much different. The WV food tax is actually higher. WV pays 3%, we pay 2%. Taxes on other items in WV are the same as GA at 6%. The gas tax in WV is a bit higher. I know my family in WV pays more for gas than we do in GA (except if GA is having a shortage caused by a hurricane). Some of the extra cost might be because of access, but taxes play a big part in it.

Housing costs are not that different either. My husband was offered a job at WVU, so we looked at homes in and around Morgantown. I was kind of shocked at the prices. Modest homes were more than what we paid for our 3 bedroom/2 bath home in 2002. We found some other homes that were more reasonable, but the travel distance from Morgantown was significant. It just didn't make sense for us.

Is it possible for companies in WV to pay a living wage?

In early 1993, my husband had been out of college for almost two years. We had just moved from an apartment in Princeton, WV to campus housing in Athens, WV (where I was still attending Concord College). We left the apartment in favor of cheaper campus housing because it was impossible to keep up with the expenses living on my husband's salary and my small income working part-time on campus. My husband was in the Army Reserves and working at a local movie theater. He was assistant manager, but he was still only making minimum wage, which was at that time $4.25.

To this day, my husband and I still talk about this next part. He asked for a raise. He deserved it. He was, after all, assistant manager, managing a group of employees. At times he was running the theater alone. His boss checked with the head honchos and gave him the good news. "You're going to be so excited about this. I got you a raise. You're going up to $4.30."

I wish that story was a joke. The pay raise certainly felt like a punch line.

That was the straw that broke the camel's back. There had been many straws. Straws like looking for a job in his field and never finding one. Straws like realizing someone was going to have to die and he'd have to take their job for him to get a chance at a career. Straws like realizing that when he finally does get a chance at responsibility and advancement, the big bonus was a five cent an hour raise.

We had friends in Georgia and one friend helped my husband find a job as a Graphic Designer (that's what his degree is in) making twice as much as he was making in WV. It seemed like a no-brainer, but we struggled with that decision. We knew leaving WV was life-changing. We knew it was something that would be hard to reverse. Still we left. Our goal was to make a life for ourselves and we didn't feel like we could do that with the limited opportunities we faced in WV.

As I said, that was 1993. Maybe things have changed in WV, but we certainly didn't see evidence of that change during my husband's job searching last year. To be fair, we have brothers and sisters living and working and making it in WV. Maybe it was the idea of my husband and I wanting to live on just his income, with me continuing to be a stay at home mom that made our WV dream hard to come true. I have a sister who stays home, but the other sister and my six sisters-in-law all work. Are they just following the way of the nation, do they just want to work, or is it a necessity?

Interesting question, but I have no idea what the answer is.

I hope the Home to WV campaign works out. I hope Joe Manchin (who was just re-elected to the dismay of my mother) will figure out the right formula to keep young people home. I hate to think of the hard choices my nieces and nephews face if they want to stay in WV.

Frankly, it's too late for my husband and I. This last chance at returning to WV changed something about us. It was already starting to change after 15 years, but I think the disappointment of rejecting the WVU job offer sealed the deal.

We've become those people I used to wonder about when I was growing up. You remember, the long lost relatives? They come in from different parts of the country for the holidays. They're always thrilled to be there. Always happy to be in WV. You are always glad to see them. But they always return to their adopted homes and leave the state once again.

I wondered what it was like for them to travel so far and leave. Now I know, because we are the ones who pack up, head to the mountain state, enjoy our family and our time there. Then we pack it all up again and head back home for GA.

It used to be much harder to do. The first few years, leaving WV after a visit meant I cried in the car until we got a few miles into Virginia. These days that doesn't happen. I do what many others have done before me. I enjoy my family and the beauty of my home state and then I look forward to coming home to GA.

It's not really the life I thought I would have, but it's a life I love. And maybe we have the best of both worlds. We get to enjoy WV as a holiday and that's always exciting. It is our escape. The times we have there all center around fun and family.

That makes WV very special to us, even though it's no longer our home.


A. said...

Just wanted to say this was very good. You've expressed it very well. Thanks for linking to me.

Evil Twin's Wife said...

My husband is a graphic designer - he has no college degree, but he makes enough here in WV for me to be a stay at home mom to our 2 children. We own our home, have two vehicles (only a payment on one), and send our son to private school. It IS doable here.

I think Morgantown is much more expensive (real property-wise) than Kanawha County because it's a college town and it's close enough to the DC area to make it appealing to commuters, etc. Try looking for something in Charleston or Huntington if you want to truly come home, earn a decent salary and buy an affordable home. (My husband has worked on the "Come Home to WV" campaign a lot - he's also responsible for the new Welcome to WV signs on the interstate). :-)

Tina said...

Thanks for the perspective, Evil Twin's Wife! Can I call you ETW for short? It just seems impolite to call you Evil!

As I mentioned in my post, we have brothers and sisters, making it work in WV. Low pay, limited employment opportunities, and cost of living are facts of life in WV, though. Otherwise campaigns like Home to WV wouldn't be necessary because people wouldn't feel the need to leave the state in the first place.

My perspective comes from my experience and the experiences of friends who have left WV. There are many of us out here and I'm just trying to create a place where we can talk about those issues that forced us to leave.

My ramblings are definitely not meant to say it can't be done and kudos to you for doing it!

And your husband did the new Welcome to WV signs? Can you tell him THANK YOU for me? Quite an improvement, and I'm sure every WV Expat would agree!

Evil Twin's Wife said...

He did not take the photo, but he did the design. Steve Shaluta did the photog work.

I am NOT a WV native - I'm only married to one. I grew up in much larger cities, then landed here via my dad's (he retired here and now he and my mom are both deceased) job. So, I understand your frustration and I get it.

I routinely go by ETW, so feel free! :-)