Curtis Tate Published

Deaths Outnumbered Births In State In 2023, Offsetting New Residents

Clear blue sky, West Virginia Capitol Dome in the background with the West Virginia bell in the foreground.Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

According to U.S. Census data released this week, West Virginia has narrowed its population loss of recent years and actually gained residents.

The state added about 4,700 residents in the year that ended July 1, 2023. But that was offset by the number of people who died in those 12 months.

More than 8,600 more people died than were born, leaving the state with a net loss of almost 4,000.

That’s not good, says Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University.

“There are a ton of economic implications for that,” he said. “We’ve got a very unhealthy, aging population in the state. Those people place a lot more economic pressure on publicly provided services than young healthy people.”

While it is true that the most out-migration took place in higher-tax states such as California and New York, Humphreys says other factors drive people to move, including weather and housing affordability.

“I don’t think there’s much evidence supporting the idea that state taxes drive migration decisions,” he said. “The general trends in the United States over the last many decades, probably since the ’80s, is that people want to move to states where the weather is good.”

When you subtract the in-migration, West Virginia had the worst natural change in its population – births minus deaths – than any state but Pennsylvania. Florida, with its elderly population, is just behind West Virginia.

The census also shows that West Virginia has lost a total of 23,642 people since 2020, almost the population of Wheeling.

“You can’t outlaw death, right?” Humphreys said. “That’s not easily addressable by any sort of policy.”

Humphreys says county level data that will be available in the spring should show where in the state the population loss and growth is occurring.

It would also be helpful, he says, to know the age of the people who are moving here, and the age of the people who are dying.