Most WV counties have lost population

HUNTINGTON — While there is growth in counties that border another state, most of West Virginia is shrinking.

According to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, 50 of West Virginia's 55 counties lost population between 2017 and 2018.

Among them are Kanawha and Cabell counties, which rank among those with the most population loss during that time frame. Kanawha County experienced a 1.6% population loss in just a year, or more than 2,800 people. Cabell County had a 1.3% loss, or more than 1,200 people.

Meanwhile, 10 counties grew modestly over that span, led by Berkeley County. That county, which shares borders with Maryland and Virginia, remains the state's second-most populated county, gaining 1.8% in a year, or more than 2,100 people.

One county gaining more than 500 people is Monongalia County, which shares a border with Pennsylvania. This is followed by Morgan and Jefferson counties, which share borders with Maryland and Virginia in the Eastern Panhandle. These two counties reported population gains less than 1%, or fewer than 500 people.

Census estimates shows many counties, especially those in the southern coalfields, are rapidly losing residents.

Wyoming County lost more than 2% of its population between 2017 and 2018. Raleigh, Boone, McDowell and Mingo counties each lost more than 1.5% of their populations in just a year.

As of July 1, 2018, West Virginia's total population was 1,805,832 people, which is 11,216 fewer than the year prior. West Virginia has reported a loss in population for five years in a row, becoming the fastest-shrinking of any state in the nation relative to population size. West Virginia and Illinois are the only states reporting losses in population.

The Mountain State's 10-year growth rate is 0.17%, which severely lags behind the national average rate of 1.09%.

Many factors are at play for the state's overall population decline. This includes the nation's highest death rate, one of the nation's lowest birth rates and an overall decline in net migration. Approximately 4,500 more West Virginians died than were born in 2017, according to census estimates.

A bulk of the population loss can also be attributed to state-to-state migration. According to data from 2016 to 2017, more people reported moving from the state than those who had migrated to it. The majority of those who moved ended up in Virginia, Ohio and Maryland, while a significant number reported moving to a U.S. territory or foreign country.

West Virginia's population loss would likely continue for the next 20 years, according to projections from the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. In the 1990s, a high immigration population and increased birth meant a younger age profile for the nation.

Reduced immigration, declining birth rates and an aging baby-boom generation will eventually reflect the nation's median age. More than half the country's population will be in their 40s and older by 2030, according to projections. However, a quarter of West Virginia's population is projected to be 65 and older from 2030 onward. This would lead to yearly population declines of nearly 5% of the state's population.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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