Aging West Virginia Population Brings Stiff Challenges Ahead
West Virginia’s young workers aren’t keeping pace with its retirees, creating a recipe for economic decay, says Dr. Christiadi, a demographer at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research in the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.
According to the newly released U.S Census Bureau’s 2009 population estimates by age and sex (http://www.census.gov/popest/estimates.html), West Virginia remains among the oldest states in the nation. The median age of West Virginians is 40.5 years and the share of those who are 65 years or older is 15.8 percent, which ranks the state third and second in the nation, respectively.
People between 45 and 64 years old and will retire in the next two decades account for 28.4 percent of the state’s total population. Those younger than 25 who will make up the state’s prime working age population in the next two decades account for only 30.6 percent. In comparison, the percentages for the U.S. population are 25.9 and 34.2, respectively. Trends that complicate this equation include a higher rate of young people moving out of the state. In turn, in the next two decades, West Virginia will likely have an even lower number of prime working age population, while at the same time seeing a higher number of retired people.
“If we believe that the U.S. population will feel the pressure of the retiring baby boomers in the next two decades, the pressure may be even harder for West Virginia,” said Christiadi. “This calls for more serious and more integrated efforts in West Virginia to make sure that the newer generation generates higher economic productivity. Should that productivity not increase, the economic gap between West Virginia -- which is already among the poorest states in the nation -- and other states may grow even larger.”
Counties that sustain significant population gain from migration are usually younger as they gain a relatively larger number of young people from migration. Monongalia, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties have experienced solid population growth and are among the youngest median counties in West Virginia since at least 2000. Those counties are also likely to have a better chance of surviving the pressure of retiring baby boomers.
On the contrary, the pressure will be more difficult for counties that have even fewer young people and a higher number of old people relative to the state. The top five counties with the lowest ratio between young people below 25 years old over those between 45 and 64 years old are Summers, Pocahontas, Tucker, Hancock, and Calhoun counties. These same counties are among those experiencing sustained population losses since 2000.