West Virginia’s Population Crisis
West Virginia has been on a concerning downward trend regarding population over the last decade. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, West Virginia lost 3.3% of its population since 2010; this was the greatest percentage of population loss out of every state in the nation. This resulted in the loss of a congressional seat, leaving the state with only two congressional districts for the 2022 election. The effects of a declining coal mining industry, which the state had heavily relied on in the past, leaves West Virginia struggling to keep up with the demands of a dynamic country.
The Census collected data on West Virginians who have a broadband internet subscription; only 76% reported having internet, however, that does not mean all 76% have fast, reliable internet. Cable internet is hard to come by in rural areas of the state, where residents must rely on satellite internet providers, if they can recieve or afford service at all.
West Virginia sees one of the highest poverty rates in America. In 2019, the Census reported a median household income of $68,703; West Virginia’s median household income was at a shockingly low number of $46,711. With 16% of the state living in poverty, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of proper financial relief will continue to wreak havoc in struggling communities.
CBS News ran a story focused on those who have left the Wild & Wonderful State; the article mentioned reasons for leaving such as unreliable internet service and low paying jobs, but an oppressive political climate was another contributor to population loss. “When Rebecca Recco left Belle, West Virginia, in 2017, she was making $42,000 as an art teacher. She now earns $68,000 teaching middle school art in Oakland, California. Moving was about more than just better pay. She described an anti-union, anti-teacher sentiment, including new laws passed by the Legislature creating charter schools and withholding teacher pay during labor strikes.”
By looking at states where people are moving to, such as Texas and Florida, these states are boasting new and exciting tech jobs; Bankrate reports that two Silicon Valley companies are moving their Headquarters to the Lone Star State. Bringing companies and more jobs, as well as more recreational opportunities, are appealing to those looking to relocate.
Seeing how these states have been successful at bringing new jobs and activities to support a growing population, why is West Virginia struggling to compete? What will it take for West Virginia’s state government to start progressing towards a flourishing, welcoming state, rather than just a drive-through on the interstate?