WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia lost an average of 12.6 residents per day during the last year, a trend some experts believe will leave the Mountain State with only two seats in the House of Representatives after the 2020 Census.
According to the latest Census estimates, West Virginia lost 4,623 residents from 2014 to 2015, dropping the state’s population to 1,844,128. Expecting the pattern to continue, Election Data Services of Manassas, Va., projects the state to lose one of its three House of Representatives seats via reapportionment that takes place after every census.
Census data show West Virginia lost 0.25 percent of its population during the last year, which is the highest percentage decline in the nation. Illinois lost 22,194 residents from 2014 to 2015, but that represents only a 0.17-percent loss for that state, which has almost 13 million residents to the Mountain State’s 1.85 million.
Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said the governor understands how economic decline leads to population loss.
“Gov. Tomblin understands the challenges that come with a decrease in overall population, and he continues to work to reverse that trend through ongoing economic development efforts and additional job training programs to prepare our people for jobs being created in regions across the state. The governor continues to look for ways to keep our best and brightest at home and help those wishing to return to West Virginia find new opportunities in their home state,” Stadelman said. “Any change with regard to West Virginia’s congressional seats is several years away, so it’s too early to say what if any impact that might have.”
Elected in 2010, David McKinley represents the northern part of the state, including areas such as Wheeling, Parkersburg and Morgantown. Both Mooney and Jenkins won election in 2014, with Mooney representing the central part of the state, including areas such as Charleston and Martinsburg, while Jenkins represents the southern portion of the state, including areas such as Huntington, Beckley and Bluefield. All are Republicans.
McKinley spokesman Mike Hamilton said the congressman would have no comment on the matter. Efforts to contact Mooney and Jenkins for comment were unsuccessful.
“Losing influence in Washington is certainly a concern,” said Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, who also serves as president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. “Hopefully, the oil and natural gas boom will bring some growth to West Virginia. There is plenty of good news in Wheeling, itself. Williams Lea is great story. They are using a historic building to put people to work. We have more potential for back office jobs like that.”
“This is a real problem,” Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, added. “We need to turn the jobs climate around here in West Virginia.”
Evans cited the numerous plants and factories that have closed in the Upper Ohio Valley over the last 40 years as a major reason for population decline. He also said technological advances in coal mining result in fewer jobs being available at mines that continue in operation.
“Even mines that are operating simply don’t need the number of people they needed 40 years ago or so because of the longwall machine,” he said. “The gas industry employs people, but not a lot of them stay here.”
Evans added the projected $5.7 billion PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker, which would be build directly across the Ohio River from Moundsville, would lead to some economic growth.
Storch said West Virginia has plenty of potential for growth, but believes the state needs to perform better in the areas of education and infrastructure.
“We spend a lot of money on primary education, but not enough of it is actually spent on the students. People need to know we are focused on education,” she said. “And, we have not had a successful plan for maintaining our roads. We need to do a better job with that.”
Similar problems plague much of eastern Ohio. Although Ohio, with about 11.6 million residents, is not actually losing population, Election Data Services predicts the Buckeye State will lose another seat in Congress after the 2020 Census, reducing its number of House positions from 16 to 15. Ohio lost two House seats after the 2010 Census.