WVU economist not surprised by census results for W.Va.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The announcement of West Virginia’s population loss, great enough to cost the state a seat in Congress, was no surprise to John Deskins.

Deskins, the director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said the loss is reflective of the cycle the state of West Virginia has been going through in the last decade.

John Deskins

“It’s reflective of the economic struggles we’ve seen over this time with the loss of coal jobs and other factors. It’s part of the vicious cycle. The economy suffers, people start moving away, it makes the area less attractive to potential business and the cycle perpetuates,” Deskins said on MetroNews Talkline Tuesday.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday West Virginia lost 65,000 people from 2010 to 2020. The figure represented about 3.2 percent of the state’s population. It was the nation’s largest percentage of population loss of any state.

“The grim part of this whole story is West Virginia is seeing natural population decline. We have more deaths than we have births and we’re losing over 4,000 people a year because of that factor,” said Deskins.

The other factor crippling West Virginia is the outward migration and a lot of those former West Virginians are landing in the Carolinas. There, business is booming and population is exploding. North Carolina actually gained a Congressional seat in the Census results. According to Deskins, that part of the equation can be changed for West Virginia, but it won’t be easy.

“We just have to think about ways to make our state more attractive to potential businesses. We have to stay with this and keep playing the game for the long term by using every opportunity we can to make our state more attractive. But it’s tough, it’s a very competitive environment,” he said.

Despite a myriad of problems which have contributed to West Virginia’s decline, Deskins said in his mind the biggest is the low workforce participation rate in the state. He said it’s is a key hurdle to attracting the industry to turn the tide.

“We’re dead last in the country in terms of labor force participation. That deficit is driven by human capital problems of poor education outcomes, poor health outcomes, and a major problem with drug abuse,” he said.

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