The Shepherdstown area is growing, but much of West Virginia is losing population, and many students may leave the state after graduation. Photo courtesy Shepherd University

West Virginia’s Slipping Population

SHEPHERDSTOWN— Between the 2010 census and the 2020 census, the population of West Virginia dropped by almost 60,000 people. The population in West Virginia has been dropping for years, but this notable difference between 2010 and 2020 will lead to some major impacts on West Virginia. One of the most obvious is the loss of a seat in the House of Representatives.

The representation in Congress is different for the House and the Senate. In the Senate, every state receives equal representation in the form of two senators. In the House of Representatives, however, the representation is based on the population of the state. Between 2010 and 2020, West Virginia lost enough of the population to lose one of these seats. The number of representatives in West Virginia fell from three seats to two seats.

This impact may seem detached to the everyday lives of students at Shepherd and people around West Virginia, but the loss of this seat limits the impact of West Virginia’s voice in the federal government. According to U.S. News & World Report, West Virginia ranks in the bottom of categories such as health care, education, and economy when compared to other states.

West Virginia is even ranked as 50th out of 50 states in the category of infrastructure. All of these categories are issues that are hotly debated on the floor of Congress in Washington D.C. West Virginia is in desperate need of assistance in these categories, but the state has lost a voice and a vote due to the population drop.

Why are so many people choosing to leave West Virginia?

When asked, several college students in the state said similar reasons for wanting to leave after they graduate. The first reason is about the opportunities available in other states that are lacking in West Virginia. Some students reflected that they do not see room to grow financially in the state or their dream career is not available.

However, U.S. News ranks West Virginia fairly high in the category of opportunity. West Virginia is ranked 18th out of the other 50 states in opportunities available. Why is there a disconnection between students and these supposed opportunities available in the state? It is possible that the opportunities are not clear or advertised to this population. But it is also likely that the opportunities available in West Virginia are not in line with the future goal of the younger generations.

The second reason cited by students on why they are planning on leaving West Virginia is centered around social issues. Some students spoke on the lack of diversity in the state as well as the laws that restrict the rights of the LGBT+ community.

The population of West Virginia has been falling for decades and it is unlikely to pause if the trends continue. In order to prevent a further decline which would continue to impact the state, actions need to be taken in order to make the state a more desirable place including improving on issues such as health care, opportunities, and social issues.

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