Census Report
10:30 am
Tue December 31, 2013

West Virginia Biggest Loser in Population

This chart shows West Virginia's static population since the 1930s.
This chart shows West Virginia's static population since the 1930s.

Is this the 1980s all over again for West Virginia – or is it just a temporary blip? That’s the question I have after learning the state lost population last fiscal year.

In fact, West Virginia lost more people that any other state – 2,376 – according to a new census estimate. The only other state to see a population decrease, Maine, lost 199 people.

The truth is, West Virginia’s population has been pretty static since the 1930s, when it reached 1.8 million for the first time. Since then, it’s gone up and down a bit, but always returned to that same number.

The last time West Virginia saw sustained population decline was in the 1980s, when a combination of factory shutdowns and a decline in coal mining jobs led to an exodus of more than 150,000 people.

That evened out to a very slow but steady population growth in the last 20 years. But even that population growth masked huge changes inside the state.

Places like the Eastern Panhandle boomed with suburban D.C. growth, and the area around Morgantown saw strong growth as well.

Meanwhile, the southern coalfields continue to empty out, with McDowell County leading the way with only about 22,000 residents, compared to 100,000 in its heyday. Wyoming, Logan and Mingo counties are losing population as well.

This may just be a temporary blip. Since 2000, West Virginia’s population is up by 2.6 percent – modest growth, but better than states like Michigan and Rhode Island.

Yet there are other troubling signs. West Virginia’s state revenues are down at a time when other states seem to be recovering from the recession.

What do you think? What caused this decline, and is it a sign of more population drops to come for West Virginia?