The city of Charleston has continued its population decline over the past decade, with the city dropping by more than 2,500 people since 2010, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The capital city’s population dropped from 51,400 in 2010 to 48,864 as of April 2020.
The state of West Virginia’s population was 1,793,716 last year, compared to 1,852,994 in 2010.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said the city’s population decline isn’t a surprise and it’s not unique to Charleston. Cities across the state are facing the population loss, which is why Charleston needs to stand out, Goodwin said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that people can work remotely from anywhere, companies want to build in cities that are diverse and inclusive and offer activities that enhance quality of life, Goodwin said.
The city and the Charleston Area Alliance started the Charleston Roots Relocation Incentive program last year to provide financial incentives to people who relocate to the city. So far, 10 people have used the program to do so, she said.
Goodwin said money from the American Rescue Plan can help build infrastructure here that will encourage population growth.
“We have to start doing things differently,” she said. “We have to start thinking about how the American Rescue Plan can help us build the infrastructure to help with the quality of life that these young people expect.”
The capital city remains the state’s most populated. The state’s second-largest city, Huntington, lost approximately 2,300 people in a decade, dropping from 49,138 in 2010 to 46,842 in 2020.
At 30,347, Morgantown has grown from 29,347 in 2010.
Rounding out the state’s top-five populated cities are Parkersburg with 29,738 and Wheeling with 27,052.
Kanawha County’s population lost more than 13,000 people, dropping from 193,063 in 2010 to 180,745 last year, according to the Census.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the county’s downward trending population has followed manufacturing, coal and chemical plant jobs leaving the area. People go where there are jobs, he said.
“[I’m] not surprised, but terribly saddened,” Carper said.
Carper said that’s changing as more people can work remotely. He added that he’s run into several people recently who have moved to the area from out of state.
“They’re coming home and back because they have grandkids or they seem to think they’re better off,” Carper said. “They’ve moved other places and found out the grass isn’t always greener.”
Carper said in order to stop the trend of population loss in West Virginia, the state must invest in its public and higher education systems and have a sustainable tax base that supports the services people need and want.
Numbers released by the Census Thursday are dated April 2020, and don’t take into account the majority of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Thursday, there were 330 COVID-related deaths in Kanawha County and 2,975 in the state of West Virginia.