By ALI SCHMITZ
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County continued to lose people last year, as did most counties in West Virginia, according to U.S. Census estimates released Thursday.
West Virginia’s most populous county lost almost 2,000 people last year, a 1.04 percent decrease in population, according to the estimates. The county’s 2016 population estimate is 186,241.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the decline of the coal industry in the eastern part of the county is a key factor in population loss. He said as coal miners lose jobs, they leave the county.
“It’s simple — people go where the jobs are,” Carper said.
He said there will be two or three announcements related to job growth coming soon, but bringing population numbers up is “not an easy thing to do.”
In terms of raw numbers, Kanawha lost 1,966 residents, by far the most among any West Virginia county. Raleigh County lost the second-most residents last year, 832 people, dropping its population to 76,701. Logan County decreased by 814 people, bringing their population estimate to 33,700.
Some of the smaller counties in the southern coalfields lost their highest percentage of their residents last year. McDowell County lost 2.83 percent of its population, followed by Mingo County at 2.38 percent and Logan County at 2.36 percent.
In all, 47 of West Virginia’s 55 counties lost population. Eight of those — Kanawha, Raleigh, Logan, Cabell, Wood, Mingo, Mercer and McDowell — lost more than 500 people.
Most of the counties experiencing population growth are also wealthier than the state’s average.
Berkeley County, home to Martinsburg in the Eastern Panhandle, gained the most residents — 1,890 people, an increase of 1.69 percent. Berkeley’s population is now estimated at 113,525 people, having risen by nearly 10,000 people since 2010.
Putnam County’s growth remained steady in 2016, with 142 more people estimated to be living there compared to the prior year.
Putnam, the state’s second-wealthiest county, has plenty to credit for the growth – jobs are being created throughout the county and families are relocating so their children can attend some of the state’s highest-ranked schools, county officials say.
In an interview with the Gazette-Mail last month, County Manager Jeremy Young said the county’s central location and continued industrial growth will likely continue to bring more people to the area.
It’s the fourth straight year the state’s has population dropped. The state’s aging population and drug overdose rate are factors in the decline, as well as the state of the economy in general and the coal industry in particular.
City population estimates for 2016 have not yet been released. Last year, Charleston dipped below 50,000 people for the first time since 1920.
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