ORLANDO, Fla. — Declining births and increasing deaths contributed to the United States last year having its slowest population growth rate in a century and further reducing West Virginia’s population, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. grew from 2018 to 2019 by almost a half percent, or about 1.5 million people, with the population standing at 328 million this year, according to population estimates. Besides the births and deaths factors, a slowdown in international migration also tamped down national population growth, the Census Bureau said.
That’s the slowest growth rate in the U.S. since 1917 to 1918, when the nation was involved in World War I, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.
For the first time in decades, natural increase — the number of births minus the number of deaths — was less than 1 million in the U.S. due to an aging population of Baby Boomers, whose oldest members entered their 70s within the past several years. As the large Boomer population continues to age, this trend is going to continue.
“Some of these things are locked into place. With the aging of the population, as the Baby Boomers move into their 70s and 80s, there are going to be higher numbers of deaths,” Frey said. “That means proportionately fewer women of child bearing age, so even if they have children, it’s still going to be less.”
West Virginia was one of four states that had a natural decrease, where deaths outnumbered births. The others were Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The bureau estimated West Virginia’s population at 1,792,147 as of July 1, 2019, representing a loss of 12,144 people, or 0.7 percent from the year before. It remained the 38th most populous state in the nation.
State government officials as well as economic development officials are concerned about what continued population loss will mean to the state and its economy. Heading into the 2020 census, the population decline puts West Virginia at risk of losing one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Significant population changes determine which states will gain or lose representation following a census count. West Virginia needed to gain more than 20,000 people within the past decade to hold on to its three congressional districts.
Also hanging in the balance is more than $7 billion in federal funding, which relies on census data to determine the amount of funds given to states, counties and cities.
Populations in Ohio and Kentucky each increased by 0.1 percent, according to estimates. Ohio remained the 7th most populous state with a gain of 12,759 people to make its population 11,689,200. Kentucky gained 6,520, giving it an estimated population of 4,467,673. It remained the 26th most populous state.
International migration decreased to 595,000 people from 2018 to 2019, dropping from as many as 1 million international migrants in 2016, according to the population estimates. Immigration restrictions by the Trump administration combined with a perception that the U.S. has fewer economic opportunities than it did before the recession a decade ago contributed to the decline, Frey said.
“Immigration is a wildcard in that it is something we can do something about,” Frey said. “Immigrants tend to be younger and have children, and they can make a population younger.”
Besides West Virginia, nine other states had population declines in the past year. They included New York, which lost almost 77,000 people; Illinois, which lost almost 51,000 residents; Louisiana, which lost almost 11,000 residents; and Connecticut, which lost 6,200 people. Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey, Alaska and Vermont each lost less than 5,000 residents.
Regionally, the South saw the greatest population growth from 2018 to 2019, increasing 0.8% due to natural increase and people moving from others parts of the country. The Northeast had a population decrease for the first time this decade, declining 0.1% due primarily to people moving away.
Monday’s population estimates also offer a preview of which states may gain or lose congressional seats from next year’s apportionment process using figures from the 2020 Census. The process divvies up the 435 U.S. House seats among the 50 states based on population.
Several forecasts predict California, the nation’s most populous state with 39.5 million residents, losing a seat for the first time. Texas, the nation’s second most-populous state with 28.9 million residents, is expected to gain as many as three seats, the most of any state.