Dave Mistich Published

How Can West Virginia Keep Young People From Moving Away?


West Virginia’s population is expected to drop by 20,000 through the year 2030, however, a recent Gallup poll shows a majority of West Virginians actually don’t want to move elsewhere. While many West Virginians value family and other aspects of life here, opportunities seem few and those who stay say they often feel stereotyped by those who’ve left.

But how can this problem be solved? In a radio series that aired this week, we’ve been examining this very question.

A Declining (and Aging) Population  

According to a recent report from the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research (WVU BBER), West Virginia is facing a difficult road ahead in sustaining–let along growing–the state’s population.

  • Researchers say population decline will start around 2016 and the state will continue to age.
  • By 2030, nearly 1 in 4 West Virginians will be over 65 years old.
  • Researchers also say it’s possible the state will lose a congressional seat in 2020.


Credit West Virginia University Bureau for Business and Economic Research

“The most important takeaway is if we can pursue good public policies and good business policies to get migration up, [in-]migration has the potential to erase that natural population decline,” said WVU BBER Director John Deskins.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

However, despite these expected trends, residents of the state have little desire to move and also say they aren’t likely to do so.

According to a recent poll from Gallup, only 28% of West Virginians say they would like to move (the 50-State average was 33%). Responses from the same poll also indicate:

  • Only 3% of West Virginians say they are “extremely” or “very likely” to move
  • 5% says they are “somewhat likely” to move
  • 90% say “not too” or “not at all” likely to move
  • And 9% say they are “extremely”, “very”, or “somewhat” likely  to move

The Gallup poll seems to reinforce some of the things we heard from young West Virginians. Many truly do want to stay but a lack of job opportunities make that difficult—sometimes impossible.

Stereotyping Those Who Stay

Some young people we spoke with told us they feel as though those who leave stereotype those who say, noting that leaving West Virginia for work, school, or other reasons is a sign of having “made it.” 

Logan Spears, a 25 years old bartender from Morgantown, said amongst his friends there’s a bias against those that stay in West Virginia, primarily because of compensation.

Most of the people that stay in the state are looked down upon by the others. ‘Oh, I guess he didn’t as good a job as I did’,” Spears said.

Solving the Population Decline 

Be it jobs or more cultural opportunities, many young West Virginians we spoke to seem committed to the idea of improving the state’s outlook to stop further decline.

Paul Daugherty of Philanthropy West Virginia said it comes down to the way the state “packages” itself. By that, he means diversifying the economy.

“We are a state rooted in the natural resource industry, but at the same point we need to look at other options,” said Daugherty.

For More on the State’s Future:

  • Visit our tumblr, WVNextIn6
  • Take part in a community dialogue with  What’s next, West Virginia?,  a broad—and growing–coalition of state and local partners from nonprofit, philanthropic, governmental, educational, and faith-based organizations. 
  • In cooperation with other public media outlets, we’ll soon be launching another digital initiative on the same topic. For now, stay tuned to our Twitter and Instagram accounts.