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Why Are People Leaving West Virginia?

Updated on:
March 20, 2024
Why Are People Leaving West Virginia

Image Source: Canva

Life in the Mountain State of West Virginia is what you might call a double-edged sword. Many residents love the low cost of living, beautiful natural scenery, and rich cultural heritage, but there needs to be more to keep some people there.

Between 2010 and 2020, the state's population has seen a 3.2% decline, and it is one of the only states in the U.S. with less population than it had 70 years ago. 

As a state with 1.79 million residents, West Virginia population decreasing trend is real. Even quite recently, it lost about 23,642 residents between April 2020 and July 2023. 

Why is this happening? What's causing the continuous out-of-state migration?

Let's dive into the minds of the residents and give a breakdown of the major (and not-so-common) reasons people are leaving the state. 

Lack of Job Opportunities

Anyone who has lived in West Virginia would agree this is a major issue in the state. As a state that has historically centered its economy around coal mining and natural resources extraction—being the second largest state in the country—power production has shifted from that source.

Since 2009, WV has lost over 56% of jobs gained from mining coal and natural resources in major areas like Morgantown due to the shift to renewable and more sustainable energy sources.

Even the residents with supposed steady jobs complain of low pay across multiple industries. The unmet daily needs and limited job opportunities across even the state's main cities force many locals to further their lives elsewhere.

Limited Entertainment Options and Diversity

While it's true that West Virginia is the perfect outdoor state for hikers and bikers, aside from that, there isn't so much to do.

An average young adult would find it difficult to maintain the hip lifestyle they are used to if they moved here. Of course, more vibrant cities like Charleston, Morgantown, and Huntington have some form of entertainment options, but it remains limited.

For anyone planning on relocating here, past residents mostly described their lifestyle as "home to school and back" without much to do in the rural areas. However, in the urban areas, the average movers Morgantown, WV, offers could give you advice on how to get the best out of the town.

Moreover, WV is not the most diverse state, even in the capital city. About 90% of the population is white, and the residents are primarily senior citizens. The average exploratory youth usually feels out of place, which is among the many reasons to move out of West Virginia, even though they love the town.

High Poverty Rate

With a poverty rate of about 17.9%, the Mountain State ranks among the top three poorest states in the nation. Matching this terrible data, the average life expectancy is the second-lowest in the country at 72.7 years.

West Virginia has the lowest higher education levels in the U.S., with only about 23.1% of its residents holding a Bachelor's degree.

In 2022, the state recorded the second-highest child poverty rate, with 86,400 children living below the poverty beltline. Being the nation's second lowest median household income state, it's enough for anyone to think of leaving.

  • Average Household Income: $52,460
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.30%
  • Poverty Rate: 17.9%
  • Life Expectancy Rate: 72.7 years

Terrible Healthcare

Another significant instigator for the loss of population within West Virginia is the presence of inadequate and ill-equipped health facilities.

West Virginia suffers from a shortage of healthcare professionals, especially in suburban and rural areas. Residents wait, on average, a longer time to speak to a professional and have limited access to health centers.

The Mountain State ranks #2 as the state with the highest number of preventable deaths, which doesn't look well for any residents. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the death rate outpaces and has been surpassing births within West Virginia for more than a decade.

As a state battling a severe opioid epidemic, having one of the highest overdose death rates in the country, it ranks 46th in the nation. Even access to health insurance by residents is extremely low, which makes affording the care even more difficult.

Shortage of Quality Housing

Are there houses in West Virginia? Well, yes. Are they mostly of good quality? Well, no.

Due to the high poverty rate and low-income status of most residents in WV, affording to buy or rent a home and make mortgage payments for good quality houses just seems like a stretch.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the state has a shortage of about 29,072 affordable and available rental homes for low-income renters. Those who can afford to pay are severely cost-burdened, spending more than half of what they earn on housing.

Plus, real estate investment isn't really a thriving business in the state. There are barely any new home constructions, and residents have to deal with old and dilapidated homes, which isn't good.

As a poor state, renovations aren't really a common thing amongst residents. It's pretty expensive, and the average person here can't afford it.

But if West Virginia is where you want to stay, you can opt for building a tiny house which is much more affordable.

Poor Government Services

Life in WV in 2024 is still the same—a poor and underperforming economy with bad basic services needed to survive.

As earlier stated, the state suffers from a lack of proper healthcare and high poverty; however, this is due to poor services provided by the government.

The West Virginia state government has record low income rates per capita, and because of this, the state has a low sales tax and other taxes to fund several policies within its cities.

Plus, many city residents don't exactly like the politics and government play at work. Back in 2021, when the government began the initiative to encourage remote workers into the state, some people kicked against it, stating the government should use the funds to help the suffering households within the communities.

Image Source: Canva

Poor Internet Services

It might seem like a minor reason to move out of an entire state, but bad internet and network services can be a real hassle.

Not just for residents, even businesses are shying away from West Virginia, especially the rural areas, due to the poor broadband services—crippling the economy.

West Virginia ranks among the top five worst states with good wired or fixed wireless broadband access. Only about 83% of households in West Virginia's decreasing population have access to the moderate internet speeds provided.

Cold Winters

Why are people leaving WV? Well, the cold winter breeze is one of the minor reasons residents are packing their bags out of the state. It's more or less a breaking point reason, really.

Most of the residents, especially the ones who have stayed here all their lives, have probably gotten used to the low temperatures of the mountain state but are not comfortable with it.

West Virginia sits on a mountain, which makes it on an elevated terrain, resulting in heavy snowfall and challenging average weather conditions. Remember, West Virginia is, on average, a poor state, and indoor heating costs a lot, which can be difficult to keep up with.

The average winter temperatures experienced in West Virginia varies between the lows of 20° and 30° compared to the national average of 40° to 60°.

For this reason, many residents are leaving for warmer climates with more favorable winters, and who could blame them?


Why is the West Virginia population decreasing? Several factors are responsible and culprits for the increase in migrating residents of WV.

While different people have their unique propellers, some reasons common to the large populace of movers are lack of job opportunities, high poverty rate, and terrible healthcare.

Remember, the Mountain State is a good place to live, and these reasons should not dismay you from coming. However, it should give you a heads-up of what to expect when you do come.

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