By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- Could the recent release of U.S. Census Bureau data be responsible for a new online survey of young professionals between 21 and 45 which it hopes will shed some light on the exodus from West Virginia of that demographic?

The federal numbers show that only two of West Virginia's largest cities experienced any significant growth over the past seven years.

There's Morgantown, for one, with the booming enterprise of West Virginia University. And there is Martinsburg, largely home to commuters whose work place isn't here, but out-of-state.

The figures also sadly show that in the last seven years West Virginia deaths exceed births.

Spokesman Paul Daugherty with the organization, Generation West Virginia (www.generationwestvirginia.com), tells the Associated Press his group's goal "is to help craft policies and initiatives to reverse" what he calls a "brain drain" of young talent from the state.

Vanishing young professionals can be surely explained by a lack of jobs, but what explanation is there for so few Help Wanted ads in prosperous fields?

One certain clue is in this summer's issue of Directorship magazine which places the Mountain State ahead of only Illinois as the nation's worst place to grow a work force because of court rulings.

West Virginia "continues to have one of the worst liability climates in the nation," says the American Justice Partnership in the piece, a coalition of 70 state and national groups which tracks how a state's civil justice system impacts jobs.

Case in point: the recent National Law Journal finding that over the past year three of the nation's seven largest verdicts were delivered in West Virginia courtrooms.

Mr. Daugherty's group can surely make the connection between a lack of jobs here and a succession of $400 million-plus judgments against large employers that cannot even be appealed. When a few greedy personal injury lawyers suck more than a billion dollars fr om the state's economy, it is no wonder West Virginia families are separated with a work force-ready generation crossing our borders for gainful employment.

This latest critique of West Virginia's legal climate echoes a number of other such evaluations which draw the same conclusion that a broken lawsuit system is a barrier to decent jobs.

Just this spring, for instance, a national study from the Washington-based Institute for Legal Reform placed West Virginia, for the third straight year, as the least attractive place to build a work force.

Looking for reasons to explain the brain drain? Start with reform of the legal system here.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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