Blog Posts > The Where and the How of West Virginia’s Population Decline
April 29, 2019

The Where and the How of West Virginia’s Population Decline

West Virginia has made headlines recently for its continued population decline. And recently released population estimates from the Census Bureau show that only a handful of West Virginia counties have been immune from the dropping population.

Between 2010 and 2018, West Virginia’s population fell by an estimated 47,000 people, or a decline of 2.6%. West Virginia lost population both naturally, with 19,000 more deaths than births, and through migration, with 27,000 more people leaving the state than moving in.

Only 9 counties experienced population growth over that time period. And of those 9 counties, 7 of them are classified as urban counties.

By percent, the 5 counties (all but 1 being rural) that saw the largest loss of population between 2010 and 2018 were:

McDowell (-17.6%)
Wyoming (-12.6%)
Mingo (-11.4%)
Logan (-11.3%)
Boone (-10.9%)

Unsurprisingly, the biggest population losers were all in the state’s southern coal fields. The 5 counties (all but 1 being urban) that saw the largest percent growth were:

Berkeley (+12.4%)
Monongalia (+10.6)
Jefferson (+6.2%)
Doddridge (+2.5%)
Putnam (+2.2%)

Kanawha County lost the most population overall, with the county’s population declining by 12,609, while Berkeley County added the most people, with it’s population growing by 12,954.

Overall, both urban and rural counties in West Virginia saw population declines, with a sharper fall in the state’s rural counties. Urban counties saw their population decline by 20,884 or 1.7%, while rural county population fell by 27,498, or 4.6%.

West Virginia is also losing population much faster than anticipated. According to population projections from the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research, West Virginia’s population was projected to fall from 1,852,994 in 2010 to 1,806,816 in 2030. In 2018, West Virginia’s population has already fallen to 1,805,832. Projections from the University of Virginia Demographics Research Group show West Virginia’s population is expected to continue to decline, falling to 1,661,849 by 2040.

The sharp decline in rural West Virginia’s population highlights the unique challenges facing the state. Sustainable growth and broader economic growth can occur in both the rural and urban areas of the state if policymakers put forth policies that invest in the people and public structures that provide the foundation for economic opportunity and make necessary quality of life improvements.

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