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Mon County population growth overtakes Berkeley and Jefferson counties

West Virginia county population continues to struggle

Monongalia County’s population has grown the most in West Virginia, outpacing the former boom counties of Berkeley and Jefferson, according to information released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The population of Monongalia County grew by 1.7 percent in 2009. Monongalia, Berkeley and Jefferson were the only counties in the state that have grown by more than 1 percent since 2008. Birth and death rates explain some population fluctuations, said Dr. Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, but the three counties’ recent gain is due primarily to migration.

“Migration has always been the primary driver of population growth in these counties,” said Dr. Christiadi. “Migration into Berkeley and Jefferson counties has slowed considerably due to the recession occurring in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia economies. On the other hand, migration into Monongalia County remained strong in 2009. Albeit slowing, the county still saw a solid job growth of around 1.5 percent in 2009, and at the same time student enrollment into West Virginia University remained strong. These two reasons are why Monongalia County drew more migrants, allowing it to outpace population growth in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.”

Recent statistics also indicate that West Virginia’s population grew during the past year, but only slightly. Between July 1, 2008 and July 1, 2009, West Virginia’s population grew at a sluggish rate of 0.3 percent, somewhat faster than the previous year’s growth of 0.2 percent but well below the nation’s rate of 0.9 percent. 

The 2009 growth confirms the state’s continued struggle to grow since at least 2000. In nine years since July 1, 2000, the state population increased by only 0.71 percent, which translates into an average growth of 0.08 percent per year. This means any population gain made in some counties was just about enough to compensate for losses in the other counties.

Since 2000, there have been more West Virginia counties (about 60 percent) losing population than gaining. Nine counties have continued losing population every year since 2000. Fourteen counties have lost population annually since 2005.

Kanawha County almost made the list of those that continued to lose population every year since 2000. The only time it gained population was in 2009 where it grew by 0.4 percent. Dr. Christiadi said the 2009 gain does not necessarily indicate the start of a population-growth turn around in Kanawha County.

“It’s too early to tell, but my guess is the gain was driven more by the fall in people leaving rather than an increase in people migrating into the area. Out-migration (people leaving) tends to slow a great deal during recession because economic opportunities shrink elsewhere.”

Should in-migration into Kanawha County increase, it will more likely be driven by return migration than by economic or job-related migration, he said.

“Return migration also tends to occur more during recession. However, compared to economic migration, return migration is usually much smaller in size. Data shows that Kanawha County experienced job losses in both 2008 and 2009, thus was less likely to suddenly attract more in-migrants in 2009.”