Leaving Home: West Virginia’s Population Drop Largest in United States | West Virginia News
By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – After her company told employees in 2017 to start working remotely, customer service rep Haley Miller decided to break away from her lifelong home in West Virginia.
The seaside beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida offer a much different view than the mountains of its native state. There are palm trees, a bustling arts and dining scene – and fewer potholes.
“There are tons of things to do,” said Miller, now 29, who still works for the retail company. “It is a very welcoming and inclusive city.”
She is not alone. According to data recently released by the US Census Bureau, West Virginia has lost a higher percentage of its residents than any other state in the country. From 2010 to 2020, the population fell by 3.2%, or about 59,000 people. For this reason, West Virginia was one of seven states to lose a seat in Congress as a result of the 2020 census.
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The reasons for leaving vary, but common themes emerge: lack of opportunities or low wages; not enough to do; a political climate that some find oppressive; and poor mobile phone and Internet service. According to the Census Bureau, only 79% of households in West Virginia have a high-speed Internet subscription, the fifth lowest rate in the country.
The population has suffered from changing demographics, with deaths exceeding births over the past two decades, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In an effort to reverse population losses, West Virginia has started encouraging remote workers to relocate to the state of 1.79 million people through a program that will pay them $ 12,000 in cash as well as free passes for one year of rafting, golf, climbing and other outdoor activities.
Miller doesn’t want it. The energy invested in attracting foreigners, she said, should be spent to “help the people who are suffering the most.” About 16% of West Virginia residents live in poverty, surpassed only by Arkansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The nation’s second largest coal producer, West Virginia has lost 56% of its mining jobs since 2009 as power plants turned to renewable energy sources.
Teachers are leaving for better paying jobs, especially in neighboring states. Despite winning 5% increases following a long strike in 2018, teachers in West Virginia remain 48th in the country in terms of average salaries, according to the National Education Association.
For this reason, many school districts in West Virginia County rely heavily on substitute teachers.
When Rebecca Recco left Belle, West Virginia, in 2017, she was making $ 42,000 as an art teacher. She now earns $ 68,000 teaching art at college in Oakland, California.
Moving was more than a better salary. She described anti-union and anti-teacher sentiment, including new laws passed by the legislature creating charter schools and withholding teachers’ salaries during labor strikes.
“West Virginia reminds me of a drunk cousin,” Recco said. “It’s like that cousin you have who can’t pull himself together.” I love West Virginia. I love it. This is where my roots come from. (But) I could not with this state anymore.
With the exception of the occasional gift shop, Recco said, West Virginia is just a passing thought for motorists on the freeways.
“Everyone I met here said, ‘Oh yeah, I went through West Virginia. I do not remember. Was there something to do? ”Recco said. “That’s the sad thing. It is the perfect place to put something to attract people from DC, Columbus or Pittsburgh. Give them a reason to quit.
Andrew Snyder is looking for a reason to come back for good.
Snyder, 25, left Charleston as a freshman at college in 2016 to join the military because he and his then pregnant wife wanted to support their families. After leaving the military, he found work as a defense contractor in Alabama – one of only two other states that have also lost population in the past decade, along with Illinois.
Snyder, whose parents still live in West Virginia, dreams of someday moving to Morgantown to earn a master’s degree.
Still, he worries about poor broadband and spotty cell service in his home state. Going back to “must be the right opportunity,” Snyder said. “I make a lot of money here doing what I do.”
Affordability and retirement were two reasons Susan Mazur-Stommen jumped at the chance to move to West Virginia from Washington, DC, in 2019. The 54-year-old cultural anthropologist and her husband bought a home in 110 years at Hinton for $ 47,000.
“The people of West Virginia are very independent. You don’t get that compliance that you see elsewhere. I think it’s really important, “she said.” There is a kind of attitude of live and let live. You can create your own future and your own reality here in ways that you cannot in tight, more conformist places.
For many, if not most of the people who have left, the conflict between the things that caused them to leave and their fondness for mountain vistas, a manageable pace, and family on hand never really goes away.
Snyder’s grandparents are getting older. His wife also has family in West Virginia. He loves to hunt and fish and says they are “typical of West Virginia”.
“Nothing is ever home,” he said, “unless you’re home”.
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