America’s population growth from 2010 to 2020 was among the slowest for any decade on record since the U.S. census began over 230 years ago. The nation’s population rose only 6.5% to 329,484,123. While several states posted double-digit population growth, a few shrank and one had a drop larger by a wide margin than any other.
The recent population measurement data from the U.S. Census Bureau examines the population from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2020. Seven states grew more than 15% over the period, led by Utah, which was up 17.1% to 3,249,879. It was followed by Texas, the second largest state by total population, which was up 16.3% to 29,360,759. Texas was also the state that added the most residents over the period.
The population increase to America’s largest state slowed considerably after decades of rapid growth. California’s count rose only 5.5%, less than the national average, to 39,368,078.
The state that lost the most population was West Virginia, down 3.7% to 1,784,787. It was one of only six states that lost residents in the 10 years. The others were Mississippi, New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Illinois. Notably, the three states clustered around New York City all lost population. There has not been a solid argument about why this happened except that there has been an ongoing migration of the American population from the northeast to the states in the west and south.
It is a matter of debate whether demographics influence the size of a state’s population. Certainly, West Virginia ranks at or near the bottom of all states based on income, education, wealth and health outcomes. Median home values, at $120,000, are about half the national average. Only 21% of the people in the state have a bachelor’s degree, well under the national figure. At $47,000, the median household income is about $20,000 below the national number. The state’s poverty rate of 16.0% compares to a national rate of 10.5%.
One factor that may have influenced the population decline is that several of West Virginia’s major industries have been decimated. Among the largest of these is coal mining, which almost certainly will not recover.
The West Virginia decline is not new. Its population has fallen most of the past 10 years, and there is no sign or obvious reason that will change.