Earlier this week the Census Bureau released its annual state population estimates. The data showed West Virginia losing an estimated 9,951 residents from July 2015 to July 2016, making West Virginia one of only eight states to lose population in the past year.
Digging deeper into the data sheds a little more light on the causes of West Virginia’s population decline. West Virginia experienced a net migration loss of 6,583 residents, meaning more people left West Virginia than moved to West Virginia. West Virginia was one of 19 states with a net migration loss.
West Virginia also experienced a natural population loss of 2,680, meaning more West Virginia residents died in the past year than were born. West Virginia was one of only two states with a natural population loss, with 19,799 births and 22,479 deaths.
While West Virginia’s population loss has prompted much discussion around the ‘struggle to stay,’ is West Virginia’s population loss due to residents leaving home more so than in other states? West Virginia was one of 19 states with a net migration loss, but is there anything about that loss that makes West Virginia unique?
For that we can look to the Census migration data. In 2015, 44,648 residents moved from West Virginia to another state the prior year, while 39,093 residents moved to West Virginia from another state. So overall, 5,555 more people left West Virginia than came to it. As the charts show, most of the migration, both to and from West Virginia, came from neighboring states, as well as Florida.
Those coming to West Virginia were actually slightly younger than those leaving the state. The average age of those migrating to West Virginia from another state was 32.4 years, while the average age for those leaving West Virginia for another state was 35.0 years.
Compared to other states, West Virginia does not see an exceptional amount of migration, in or out of the state. As a share of total population, West Virginia ranks 39th for in migration and 37th for out migration.
In 2015, 2.4 percent of West Virginia’s residents left the state. The average state experienced 2.9 percent of its population leaving. This shows people are not leaving West Virginia at a rate any higher than a typical state. But West Virginia is also not replacing those who did leave. In 2015, in migrating residents accounted for 2.1 percent of the state’s population. However, for the average state, the in migration rate was 3.1 percent.
While West Virginia is losing residents to other states, it’s not losing them at any amount greater than any other state loses residents. But, in the end, West Virginia isn’t gaining as many residents from other states, leading to a net migration loss. Combined with the fact that West Virginia was one of only two states with more deaths than births, you can see that the state isn’t necessarily struggling to keep people from leaving, it is struggling to bring them in.
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