MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An economist at West Virginia University said one of the biggest problems the Mountain State is facing in the long run is the declining population.
“We have a vicious cycle here,” said Dr. John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research in the College of Business and Economics.
“When the economy suffers, when young people don’t see job opportunities in the state, they leave and then, when the population starts to decline, markets are smaller for businesses, that makes them less inclined to move into the state and businesses have fewer workers.”
New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, released earlier this week, showed West Virginia was one of just two states, alongside Maine, to lose population during the last year. There was a population decline of 2,376, or .13 percent, from July 2012 to July 2013 meaning, in total, there are now 1,854,304 West Virginians.
“Even though this decline may be relatively small in the big picture, if we put this together for a decade, we may see a change that we really notice,” cautioned Deskins on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
He said WVU had originally forecasted flat population for both 2013 and 2014 with declines expected to start in 2015 and continue annually, at a rate of .1 percent, for many years.
“We have natural population decline, that is we have more deaths than we have births, and that’s in large part because we have a relatively old population and then we also have out-migration,” Deskins said of the causes of the decline.
“Both of those factors are contributing to this population decline that we see and that will continue to be the case.”
Data showed declines in the younger age groups, including those under the age of 18 and between the ages of 19 and 44, have been occurring for some time. Overall, the Bureau is forecasting about a 2.5 percent annual increase in the “over age 65” part of the population during the next five years.
Any population growth in West Virginia, Deskins said, is heavily concentrated in a few areas including Morgantown and the Eastern Panhandle. Overall, though, during the past decade, about half of West Virginia’s counties have lost population and, he said, they’ll continue to do so.