CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia recorded the largest loss in population in the United States, percentage-wise, according to the 2020 US Census.
According to data released last week, West Virginia’s population was 1,793,716 in 2020, compared to 1,852,994 in 2010, a loss of nearly 60,000. Only eight counties in the state experienced population growth between 2010 and 2020.
Gov. Jim Justice expressed concern about the numbers during Friday’s coronavirus media briefing.
“This is a problem, a real problem. We have a lot of elderly people in West Virginia. If we don’t replace and we don’t find a way to start growing, this situation will get worse. By less and less people, that means less and less revenue,” he said.
Counties that gained population include Berkeley (17.2%), Monongalia (10%), Jefferson (7.9%), Lewis (4%), Putnam (3.5%), Preston (2.1%), Hardy (2%), and Pleasants (0.6%).
Justice noted that Pendleton (-20.2%), Ritchie (-19.2%) and Calhoun (-18.3%) lost the most population in the past ten years, calling them “beautiful counties” and something that needs to be reversed.
The other counties that lost at least 10% of its population include Gilmer, Braxton, Clay, Summers, McDowell, Wetzel, Mingo, Fayette, Boone, Logan, and Wyoming.
Justice noted that McDowell County’s population is now below 20,000 and at one point in the 1900s was at 100,000.
Charleston’s population dropped from 51,400 in 2010 to 48,864 as of April 2020. Huntington, the state’s second-largest city, saw a population drop of nearly the same amount of people as Charleston. ‘The Jewel City’ lost approximately 2,300 people in a decade, dropping from 49,138 in 2010 to 46,842 in 2020.
The only two cities in the top ten in population in the state that grew were Morgantown and Martinsburg. Parkersburg, Wheeling, Weirton, Fairmont, Beckley, and Clarksburg all lost population in the past decade according to the data.
Justice said during the briefing that his idea of getting rid of the state’s income tax would change the population loss patterns. The Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated any path for income tax elimination during the regular session.
“That would have changed this situation. It was a big miss,” Justice said. “At some point in time, if the opportunity provides itself again, we need to revisit and we need to look.”