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WVU demographer: state population trends present challenge

West Virginia’s population is growing, but growing older, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

New figures show a 2.5 percent increase in West Virginia’s population between 2000 and 2010 with growth in the state’s elderly population (65 years and older) inversely proportional to a decline the number of its younger citizens.

Some highlights from the data:

• The state’s youngest population (under 10 years old) dropped 1.4 percent.

• The state’s K-12 population, defined as population between 5 to 17 years of age, dropped 17,230 or 5.7 percent. This loss occurred in 48 counties, with 25 of them losing more than 10 percent.

• College-age population, defined as those between 18 and 24 years of age, saw a 2 percent decline. That loss occurred in 43 counties, with 21 of them losing more than 10 percent.

• Prime working-age population, defined as those between 25 and 44 years of age, dropped 8.6 percent. The loss occurred in 47 counties, with 35 of them losing more than 10 percent.

• Old workforce, defined as those between 45 and 64 years of age, increased by 18.8 percent. Overall, the state’s workforce (those between 25 and 64 years old) increased by 4.4 percent.

• The state’s elderly population of 65 years and over increased by 7.4 percent.

Dr. Christiadi, a demographer with the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said counties in the north and eastern parts of West Virginia saw gains in young and old population. He said the decline of the state’s youngest population, “most likely represents declining births in the state,” and will likely lead to school consolidations and closings.

The trends also suggest the goal to increase the number of college graduates in the state will become more challenging as the supply of potential college students declines, he said.

“Overall, these are challenging trends as the state tries to maintain its long-run economic growth,” Christiadi said. “The young workforce is already shrinking. As baby boomers retire in the next two decades, the whole workforce will start shrinking as well, which could pose as a drag in the economic growth. At the same time the number of old population will increase, which will strain the provision of their public services. The picture will look even gloomier if the supply of college graduates keeps declining.”

Dr. Christiadi serves as a liaison with the U.S. Census Bureau with regard to population estimates and projections. He oversees the production of West Virginia population projections and specializes in urban-regional and labor-demographic economics, with a primary focus on migration. He has also conducted a variety of economic impact and labor market studies.