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West Virginia Population Decline

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I'm about 3 years late to the party on this, and I don't live in West Virginia , so take my opinion with a grain of salt. But as an out-of-stater, from my eyes it seems pretty straightforward. For one, the economy of West Virginia isn't great - you could argue it never really has been (it's always has been one of the poorest states in the nation). The coal industry in particular is on a decline over the last decade, and that trend will most likely continue. In 2019, unemployment in West Virginia hit the lowest it's been since the Great Recession, and that's before the pandemic. When you look at this from the point of view of a young person, after graduating college, where do you go? Most look to the big  (or bigger) cities and towns to find a job, particularly when "back home" has a relatively bleak job outlook. In the case of WV, the entire state could be considered "back home" in this analogy (given the high proportion of rural counties - 50% total, which makes the state rank #3 in most rural counties in the nation)  -- and the bigger cities offering better job outlooks are mostly in other states. Could there be a certain aspect of social/political/cultural influence, as well? Sure, maybe to a degree. It's not a shocking statement to say that the younger population skews much more liberal, which might be a problem in rural, rosy-red conservative West Virginia. Not only that, geography likely plays a role as well- being that the state is covered in mountains, I'd imagine the small town experience is even more isolating.  Assuming the young people are leaving en masse, the older folks will inevitably pass with the passing of time. But in a much broader way, I'd argue this is a phenomenon happening all over the country - with young people flocking from rural areas to the bigger cities, particularly after finishing up school. There's just more opportunity. I can pick out random rural counties in neighboring Virginia, and you'll  see similar trends - Brunswick County, for example, lost about 11% of its population since 2000. Highland County on the WV border has almost been cut by 50% since the 1950's, with steady losses every ten years. Even in neighboring Pennsylvania, Fulton County lost 2.2% of its population since 2010. These types of trends can be supported anecdotally - I've had friends that grew up "in the sticks", stayed for college, but then left for bigger cities and towns to find work. West Virginia, by extension, would feel the brunt of this trend as being one of the most rural and impoverished states. 

Does this mean that rural populations will always be on a decline, and doomed to become obsolete? Of course not. People will follow the jobs, and if more jobs come to the region, the people will follow. I've heard from expats who've left these rural counties that have intense pressure/guilt from family to return, which they may do in time if the opportunities are there.  Plus, not all counties in WV are on a decline - Berkeley County, for example, has grown about 14.4% since 2010, which is tremendous. What sets Berkeley County apart from say, Kamawha County (home of the capital Charleston, which saw a 7.7% decline since 2010)? Well, Berkeley is in the far east of the state, in a region that is not surrounded by mountains, and is closer to neighboring Hagerstown, Maryland, which all likely benefits from the greater DC area sprawl (to a degree, of course). And of course, everything I've said is sweeping generalizations - there are plenty of small towns and rural communities that have been growing over the last decade - just look at southeastern Pennsylvania. How their demographic changes translate to WV, I'm not sure. But the fact of the matter is, West Virginia isn't attracting new people to the state right now in large enough numbers. Until that changes, I wouldn't be surprised if we continue to see a downtrend.

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