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U.S. Census: WV continues to lose residents

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U.S. Census: WV continues to lose residents
By Daniel Desrochers, Kanawha County Reporter, Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia lost more than 6,100 people between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015, according to the 2015 population estimates put out by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Percentage-wise, West Virginia’s 0.25 percent decrease was the largest in the country. Six other states lost population, according to the Census: Illinois, Connecticut, Mississippi, Maine, Vermont and New Mexico.

West Virginia has seen a population decrease for three straight years in the Census estimates.

“What’s remarkable is that West Virginia is just in complete stagnation,” said Ted Boettner, executive director of the progressive-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The population of the state has fluctuated in Census data since its peak in 1950, but while West Virginia made up 1.3 percent of the U.S. population in 1950, today it only makes up 0.57 percent. West Virginia also is the only state that has seen a decrease in population since 1950.

Iowa, the state that has seen the lowest growth after West Virginia, has grown by 19.18 percent. Christiadi, a research associate and demographer at West Virginia University who goes by only one name, attributed some of that decline to the domino effect of job losses in the coal industry.

“The new employment in the natural gas industry has not been big enough to compensate for the losses in the coal industry,” Christiadi said.

Boettner sees the trend not as a need to increase natural gas jobs but to diversify the economy.

“We’ve been unable to transition to a knowledge-based economy,” Boettner said, “and that has meant people leaving here in flocks.”

If the downward population trend continues for West Virginia, the state runs the risk of losing a congressional seat after the 2020 election.

The number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives is determined by population. At one point, West Virginia had six members of the House; today it has three. The Census Bureau did not release any demographic-specific data Tuesday, so it wasn’t clear if the population loss comes from a high death rate, people moving out of state or both.

“We’ve lost 6,198 people, and not one of them could have been from out-migration,” Boettner said. “You just don’t know.”

West Virginia has a median age of 41.3 — one of the oldest in the country. The only states with a higher median age are New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

West Virginia is one of the few states that has a higher death rate than birth rate, Christiadi said.

That means the state needs to have more people moving here. That takes a good economy and a little more.

“At some point,” Christiadi said, “we need some good luck.”