CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s largest county and city both lost population over the previous decade while its Eastern Panhandle saw growth, according to figures released Wednesday from the 2010 Census.
The panhandle’s Berkeley County became the state’s 2nd most-populous, with 104,169 residents for a gain of more than 37 percent. It ranked 6th in 2000. It led the 55 counties in growth over the decade, followed by neighboring Jefferson County at 26.8 percent. These counties have increasingly become the home of commuters who work in the nearby Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area.
West Virginia remained overwhelmingly white, at nearly 94 percent, and with just 1.2 percent of residents describing themselves as Hispanic. But the Eastern Panhandle’s growth also contributed to a rise in the state’s minority population, including an 81.4 percent increase in the number of Hispanics. Both Berkeley and Jefferson counties have among the state’s highest percentages of blacks, Asians and Hispanics, the 2010 Census found.
“The minority posted a strong growth, and the strongest growth is in the Hispanic population,” said Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University who uses only one name.
But with the possible exception of Maine, which did not have available figures Wednesday, West Virginia has the nation’s lowest percentage of Hispanics. Besides Vermont and possibly Maine, it has the highest percentage of residents who identified themselves as white only.
Still, the ranks for West Virginia’s of African-American residents grew by 10.3 percent, rising from 3.2 percent to 3.4 percent of the overall population. The number of residents of Asian descent increased by 31.5 percent, but remains below 1 percent of the total population. Residents who describe themselves as belong to two or more races rose to 1.5 percent from 0.9 percent, for a 71.9 percent gain.
Wednesday’s figures will likely lead to more seats in the state Legislature for Berkeley and Jefferson along with Monongalia County. Its county seat of Morgantown, home of WVU, grew by 10.6 percent.
Those seats will likely come at the expense of the Northern Panhandle and Kanawha County, which remains the state’s most populous at 193,063 residents but for a drop of 3.5 percent from 2000. Its county seat, the state capital of Charleston, shrank by 3.8 percent over the decade to 51,400 but remains West Virginia’s largest city.
The state’s other major cities saw declines as well: Huntington, by 4.5 percent; Parkersburg, by 4.9 percent; and Wheeling by 9.3 percent.
McDowell County, which counted nearly 100,000 residents in 1950 before mechanization swept over the coal industry, experienced the steepest decline between 2000 and 2010. Losing 19.1 percent of its population, it slipped from 23rd to 31st with 22,113 residents. It’s also home to the state’s 2nd-largest percentage of African-Americans.
The state’s other southern coalfield counties also lost population. All told, West Virginia must redraw its three U.S. House districts. The 3rd District, which includes the coalfields, shed 14,739 people over the decade. The 2nd Districts, which stretches between the Ohio and Potomac rivers and includes the Eastern Panhandle, grew by 45,943 residents. Buoyed by Monongalia County and neighboring Preston County, where the population increased by 14.3 percent, the 1st District grew by 13,446 residents. But it would still need 1,670 or so more to reach the ideal size for a congressional district, of 617,665 residents.
Christiadi said Monongalia County and Putnam County, which adjoins Kanawha County and saw a 7.6 percent increase, experienced growth because of migration but also through “natural” means: births outnumbered deaths. For 70 percent of West Virginia’s counties, that wasn’t the case and Christiadi expects that to continue.
“The trend that we see from these numbers will likely continue in the next two decades at least,” Christiadi said. “The majority of West Virginia counties will experience negative natural growth, and that trend will intensify.”
Gilmer County grew by 21.4 percent, the 3rd-largest gain during the decade, to 8,693. Located in the state’s central region, its jump may stem from the opening of a new federal prison there within the last decade. The 2010 Census found it had West Virginia’s highest percentages of Hispanics and African-Americans. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons also built a new facility in Preston County since the 2000 Census.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)