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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch View of Huntington from McCoy Road on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Recent U.S. Census figures show population declines in West Virginia, with the Huntington-Ashland Metro area losing 1,769 people according to the data.

Only 32 of West Virginia's 232 incorporated cities and towns experienced population increases from 2010 to 2018, according to estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state's two most populated cities, Charleston and Huntington, recorded losing residents for an eighth straight year, a reflection of the state becoming one of the fastest-shrinking in the nation relative to population size.

Only a handful of municipalities saw gains above average, and a majority experienced only modest increases or increases of fewer than a dozen people.

According to estimates, West Virginia ended 2010 with 1.85 million people. That number dropped to approximately 1.8 million people by 2018, a difference of nearly 48,300 people.

Several factors contributed to the state's overall dwindling population, including more people moving out of the state than moving in. With an overall aging population and one of the highest death rates and lowest birth rates in the nation, West Virginia is on track to experience significant population declines for the next decade and onward.

Although the official census takes place once every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau releases annual estimations of populations, births, deaths and recorded migration.

The agency recently released estimates of cities and towns in line with similar projections released in April showing 50 of the state's 55 counties lost population between 2017 and 2018. Among those were Kanawha and Cabell counties, which ranked among the counties with the most population loss during that time frame.

According to recent estimates, Huntington started the decade with an estimated 49,153 people. That fell to 46,048 people by 2018, a 6% decrease in population.

Charleston ended 2010 with an estimated 51,272 people. That decreased to 47,215 people by 2018, a 9% decrease in population.

For the first time since 2010, Huntington is fewer than 1,200 people from surpassing Charleston to become the state's most populated city. If rates from the past eight years remain linear, Huntington would become the state's most populated city by the year 2044.

However, it would only hold on to that distinction for less than a decade before being surpassed by Morgantown, the state's third-most populated city.

Morgantown was one of only a dozen cities and towns that saw a percent change of more than 5% from 2010 to 2018. Morgantown ended 2010 with an estimated 28,478 people. That climbed to 30,955 people by 2018, an increase of 2,477.

The town of Granville, also in Monongalia County, experienced the single-largest percent change in population out of all the other state municipalities. Granville ended 2010 with approximately 786 people and increased to approximately 2,590 last year, a 229% percent change.

Granville was joined by four other cities and towns reporting double-digit percentage changes from 2010 to 2018. Those include Ranson in Jefferson County, increasing from 4,413 to 5,182 people (a 17% change); Charles Town in Jefferson County, increasing from 5,275 to 6,064 people (a 14% change); Philippi in Barbour County, increasing from 2,966 to 3,352 people (a 13% change); and Star City in Monongalia County, increasing from 1,773 to 1,976 people (an 11% change).

Five cities and towns, all within McDowell County, experienced the state's steepest percent changes. Those include: Welch, decreasing from 2,396 to 1,715 people (a 28% change); Kimball, decreasing from 194 to 159 people (an 18% change); Norfolk, decreasing from 427 to 351 people (a 17% change); Keystone, decreasing from 282 to 232 people (a 17% change); and War, decreasing from 853 to 705 people (a 17% change).

Heading into the 2020 census, the population decline puts West Virginia at risk of losing one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Significant population changes determine which states will gain or lose representation following a census count. West Virginia needed to gain more than 20,000 people within the past decade to hold on to its three congressional districts. That is now unlikely in light of recent census estimates.

Also hanging in the balance is more than $7 billion in federal funding, which relies on census data to determine the amount of funds given to states, counties and cities.

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