While we await population estimates for area counties, cities and towns, the initial data dump from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the Mountain State lost population between 2010 and 2020. Unfortunately, this data also is likely flawed, as the region saw population gains at the end of the 10-year count in mid-to-late 2020.

Still, if the official U.S. Census Bureau numbers are not challenged by state and local officials, it will likely mean the loss of a West Virginia seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Based upon the preliminary data, West Virginia is one of four states that lost population during the 10-year period, along with Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Other red states, including Texas and Florida, gained population during the same time period.

Unfortunately, population gains seen by the state of West Virginia after the onset of the pandemic in 2020, when many fled larger population centers and relocated to rural areas like West Virginia, are not reflected in the latest census count. By the time some families had begun the process of relocating, the census count was already finished.

West Virginia, and local cities like Bluefield and Princeton, gained new residents in 2020 and during the first quarter of 2021. In addition to leaving the big cities due to the virus, some were attracted to the area because they could work remotely from home. Others who were looking to retire early moved to the region.

Mike Hazlewood, president of the Mercer-Tazewell County Board of Realtors, said many people have learned that they can work remotely and live outside the urbanized areas. He said Mercer County does have numerous white collar and blue-collar workers who can work from home.

Hazlewood said Mercer County and the surrounding areas also have seen more people looking to retire early. There are people in their 50s and early 60s that are retiring, and they like Mercer County’s qualities, he said.

People are still moving to the area. According to the board of realtors, residential home sales in the region increased by 18 percent during the first four months of 2021 alone when compared to 2020.

Despite this growth, the 2020 U.S. Census is painting a dim — and somewhat inaccurate picture — of the region.

The U.S. Census Bureau is reporting that West Virginia’s population dipped to 1,793,716 in 2020, down nearly 3.2 percent from 1,852,994 in 2010. However, the census count ended in mid 2020, and thus doesn’t reflect new population growth that occurred after that time.

That’s problematic for West Virginia.

The state currently has three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but that number may now fall to two based upon the new census numbers.

Roman Stauffer, a GOP consultant, told the Associated Press last week that he expects the legislature’s redistricting process later this year to result in the two remaining congressional districts being divided between north and south. Under that scenario, incumbent U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney would face off in a Republican primary in 2022, if both choose to run for reelection in the north.

Under normal circumstances, a population loss for the Mountain State over a 10-year-period wouldn’t be an unusual development.

However, we also know that local cities and towns across our region gained population in mid-to-late 2020.

That means the official census data that is being released by the federal government will be a far from accurate representation of our region.

Unfortunately that data — even though we know it doesn’t reflect all of those individuals who have moved to the area in recent months — will still be considered official by the U.S. Census Bureau.

That’s truly unfortunate. 

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