Last updated: April 06. 2014 5:56AM - 854 Views

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West Virginia leaders have to be asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

While each of our neighboring states showed some growth in the 2013 census population estimates, West Virginia was one of the few states in the nation that saw a slight population decline.

Kentucky’s population was up about 16,000 people and Virginia’s about 74,000. Ohio and Pennsylvania also had small gains, but the Mountain State had a net loss of 2,400 people.

That loss erases about half of the meager gain the state had made since the 2010 census.

West Virginia’s population in 2010 was 1,852,999, and the 2013 estimate is 1,854,304 — a difference of 1,305 people or about one-tenth of a percent.

The most recent estimates show that 41 of West Virginia’s counties lost population between 2012 and 2013.

Clearly, the loss of jobs in the coal industry over the past few years has taken its toll. But the state’s aging population also is a looming factor.

There were more deaths than births in 42 of 55 counties — a difference of about 1,000 overall. That loss accounts for about 40 percent of the overall decline, and with the baby boom hitting retirement age, that trend is expected to continue.

The downturn is yet another reminder that there is no room for a status-quo approach to the West Virginia economy. State leaders hope the proposed ethane cracker plant in Wood County will help realize some job gains from the booming natural gas industry, but more needs to be done to diversify the economy and add new jobs, especially in the state’s southern and rural counties.

— The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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