West Virginia’s population is expected to decline in the tens of thousands over the next two decades, according to research at West Virginia University.

New, long-term projections by the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research indicate that total population in the Mountain State will begin a sustained decline around 2016 and overall the state will lose nearly 19,500 residents between 2010 and 2030. Authors of the research at BBER, which operates in the College of Business and Economics, said the decline is equivalent to just over one percent of the state’s population.

The coming population loss is expected to be driven by natural population decline — in which births fall short of deaths — as the state’s population continues to age. The other driver of population change, in-migration versus out-migration, is much more difficult to predict.

The report also details the age distribution of the West Virginia population. The authors project that the share of the state’s population that is over age 65 will grow to 22.9 percent by 2030, up from 16 percent in 2010.

“A declining and aging population is one of our key long-run economic concerns in West Virginia,” said Dr. John Deskins, BBER director and co-author of the study. “A smaller working-age population may mean that fewer businesses would consider locating in the state since a smaller potential workforce would be available.”

“Our forecast surrounding migration flows is highly uncertain, however, and positive changes to the state’s business or policy environment, such as the potential ethane cracker in Wood County, could attract migration into the state, which could offset at least a portion of the anticipated natural population decline,” Deskins said.

Despite overall population loss, the report projects strong population growth for a few parts of the state. In particular, three of the state’s counties — Berkeley and Jefferson in the Eastern Panhandle, and Monongalia — are expected to add more than 10,000 residents each between 2010 and 2030. Overall, 11 of the state’s 55 counties are expected to add residents in coming years.

“Our report highlights some very serious challenges that the state faces,” said Dr. Christiadi, BBER research associate and co-author. “However, the overall outlook is really uncertain given the volatile and unpredictable nature of migration patterns. There is hope that the population loss may not be as bad as some fear.”

The report also considers the possibility that West Virginia could lose one of its three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the upcoming Congressional re-apportionment in 2020. This loss would leave West Virginia with only two seats in the House, down from a high of six before 1950.

The full report is available from the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research for free download in PDF format at http://www.be.wvu.edu/bber. Visit be.wvu.edu/bber/publications.aspx to view the report and other publications by the BBER. For further information about the WVU College of Business and Economics, please visit http://be.wvu.edu.



Contact: John Deskins, College of Business and Economics
304.293.7876, john.deskins@mail.wvu.edu

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