According to the most recent state and county population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as shown in Chart 1, West Virginia had a shrinking population in 2014 and, correspondingly, the worst population change in the country. West Virginia’s population shrank by -0.2 percent (-3,269 people) between 2013 and 2014.
Their shrinking population growth is due to both a negative net natural population growth (births minus deaths) and net migration (domestic and international).
As shown in Chart 2, West Virginia’s net natural population growth as a percent of total population shrank by -0.07 percent in 2014—the worst growth rate in the country. This negative rate of natural population growth is due to both a low number of births (1.11 percent, 43rd highest) and a high number of deaths (1.17 percent, 1st highest).
Additionally, as shown in Chart 3, West Virginia’s net migration growth as a percent of total population was -0.09 percent—the 40th highest growth rate in the country. The vast majority of this out-migration is due to U.S. domestic migration which shrank by -0.15 percent—the 31st highest growth rate in the country. In contrast, international migration grew by 0.06 percent which ranks dead last in the country and certainly not enough to overcome the negative domestic migration.
West Virginia is already facing Demographic Winter (more deaths than births) and must take immediate steps to rectify the situation. In particular, keeping and attracting young families would provide the dual fix of reducing net out-migration and boosting the number of births—which is easier said than done.
Of course, the population change within West Virginia is not distributed equally. The West Virginia counties with the fasted growing population growth include: Berkeley County (1.7 percent), Jefferson County (1.4 percent), and Monongalia County (1.2 percent). The West Virginia counties with the slowest population growth include: Clay County (-2.8 percent), McDowell County (-2.1 percent), and Logan County (-1.8 percent).
J. Scott Moody has over 18 years as a public policy economist with a specialty in tax policy and has over 180 publications. He has worked for numerous national and state-based think tanks such as Federalism In Action, Tax Foundation, Heritage Foundation, and The Maine Heritage Policy Center.