CHARLES TOWN — Jefferson County is one of only a handful of West Virginia counties to see a population increase since 2012, according to new figures from the U.S. Census.
The county added 515 residents from July 2012 to July 2013, according to Census estimates released late last week.
Though Jefferson’s growth is a far cry from years past when the county was among the fastest-growing in the nation, the upward tick continues a trend that dates to the Great Depression.
With each new Census report, the county’s population has nudged upward, starting with the 0.3 percent rise recorded in the 1930 Census. Since 1970, the Census reports made each decade show consistent double-digit growth for Jefferson, with spikes of 42.4 percent in the 1980 Census and 26.8 in 2010.
Meanwhile, the population decline in Southern West Virginia led to an overall drop in the state’s population for 2013. Overall, West Virginia’s population fell nearly 2,400 last year. The state has 1.85 million residents.
Forty-one of the state’s 55 counties lost population from 2012 to 2013, including 15 counties that saw a loss of 200 or more residents. Kanawha with 786 and McDowell with 457 led the losers.
Losses in the coal industry are driving residents to exit the state, economic development officials say. “Right now it’s in one of the worst shapes that they’ve seen in a long time,” said Peni Adams, executive director of the McDowell County Economic Development Authority. “We’re a one-industry county. I don’t want to say all of southern West Virginia is that way. But McDowell County, we’ve relied on coal for so long.”
Just two counties in southern West Virginia – Cabell and Putnam – showed population gains.
The report found that Monongalia County, home to West Virginia University, had the state’s largest gain of 1,747 people. Most of those involved people moving from elsewhere, including 305 internationally.
Monongalia became the state’s third-largest county and joined Kanawha and Berkeley as the only counties with more than 100,000 residents. Despite its own gains, Cabell County, home of Marshall University, slipped one spot to fourth with 97,000 residents.
Deaths outpaced births in 42 of 55 counties and by 1,000 people overall. Kanawha County had by far the most deaths and births.
Sixty percent of the counties had a net loss of residents due to people moving out. Overall, the state lost 913 residents to migration last year.
In addition to Monongalia, Berkeley County was the only other county with a significant migration gain at 1,014 residents.