Just two states, Maine and West Virginia, lost population last year, the Census Bureau reports. And of those left in the Mountain State, a disproportionate percentage are older people.
Attractive career opportunities are few and far between in our state. That is why young people often roll up their high school diplomas or college degrees and go elsewhere.
Our population loss between 2012 and 2013 was not dramatic – only about 1,000 people – but it is part of a trend.
So is the aging of our state. Last year, 79.4 percent of West Virginians were 18 years of age or older, according to the Census Bureau. Only three states had higher percentages. And the state has a much higher proportion of residents 65 or older than most other states, at about 16.8. The national average is 13.7.
None of this is news. Again, it is part of a decades-long trend, and it is something thoughtful West Virginians have worried about for a long time.
Clearly, more needs to be done to keep young people from leaving our state. Government cannot do that, except to the extent that it uses low taxes and a minimal regulatory burden to make West Virginia attractive to businesses.
Some progress has been made in that regard during recent years. But the Census Bureau numbers show it has not been enough.
At the end of his state of the state address on Wednesday, Gov. Tomblin acknowledged the state’s population loss and called former West Virginia residents to ” … come home to take advantage of the growing opportunities that we are creating for you.” Lawmakers should ensure the state is creating those solid opportunities for young people to raise their families and build a life here.
Unless state officials can do better, the unpleasant – and unsustainable – trend will continue.