Residents Are Fleeing These 7 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in West Virginia

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: November 17, 2023
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West Virginia is a state in the Southern United States. The Mountain State is in the bottom quarter of states in terms of population, and it is ranked 41 out of 50 in terms of size. In 2020, the population of the state was 1,793,755. Recent estimates suggest that the population has dropped to 1,755,156 between 2020 and 2022, the most recent estimates. Today, we’re going to look at the fastest-shrinking counties in West Virginia, showing you which areas lost population and possibly why.

Kanawha County is the fastest-shrinking county in West Virginia by total population lost.

The data for this article was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates released in 2023 concerning the changes from April 2020 to July 2022. During that time, the state suffered a loss of 1% of its population. However, those losses occurred more in some parts of the state than others, and this list will show you where the greatest losses occurred.

7. Fayette County

New River Gorge National Park

The New River is located in Fayette County and is considered to be the oldest river in the United States.

©Gestalt Imagery/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 9982.47%

Fayette County is in southern West Virginia. The county is home to the oldest river in the United States, the New River. The largest city in the region is Oak Hill, and it has a population of nearly 9,000 people.  

Fayette County started 2020 with a population of 40,485 people. In 2022, though, that number shrank to 39,487. The population loss in this county was 998 people or 2.47% of the total population. This loss may not seem significant at first glance because it was only 998 people. Yet, when the starting population is only about 40,000 people, a loss of 1,000 of them is quite big.

6. Mingo County

Williamson, West Virginia.

Williamson is the largest city in Mingo County.

©Tudoran Andrei/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 1,0014.25%

Mingo County is in the southwestern portion of West Virginia, and it shares a border with Kentucky along the Tug Fork, a tributary of Big Sandy River. The largest city in Mingo County is Williamson. The population in that city was just 3,042 people in 2020.

Mingo County was home to 23,574 people in 2020. This county suffered a small loss, dropping its population by 1,001 people to 22,573 people as of 2022. The population loss percentage for this county is 4.25%. Mingo County was the fastest-shrinking county in West Virginia by the percentage of population loss.  

5. Harrison County

Location map of the Harrison County of West Virginia, USA

Harrison County is one of the fastest-shrinking counties in West Virginia.

©Roki Rodic/iStock via Getty Images

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 1,0071.53%

Harrison County is situated in the northern part of the state, and it is bisected by the West Fork River. The county is home to several lakes and creeks as well. In 2020, the population of Harrison County was 65,922 people. The latest estimates for the region show that the population shrank to 64,915 people, a change of 1,007 individuals. This loss is equal to 1.53% of the region’s population.

This population change makes Harrison County one of the fastest-shrinking counties in West Virginia. However, as this list has shown so far, even the fastest-shrinking counties in the state are not losing tens of thousands of people.

4. Logan County

The icy Guyandotte River in West Virginia.

The Guyandotte River flows through Logan County.

©Max Nibert/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 1,2563.85%

Logan County is in the southwestern part of West Virginia. The largest city in this county is Logan, a city with a population of 1,433 people. The Guyandotte River flows to the west of the main portion of the city.

Logan County had a population of 32,572 people starting in April 2020 when the last census was taken in the U.S. However, the number of people believed to be living in this area in 2022 was just 31,316. This region suffered a population loss of 1,256 people, equal to 3.85% of the population. This county is another on the list that had a high percentage of people who departed the region.

3. Cabell County

The Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia

The Ohio River flows through several counties in West Virginia, including Cabell.

©iStock.com/Tom Leddy

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 1,6161.72%

Cabell County has the fourth-highest population of any in the state. This county is in southwestern West Virginia, sharing a border with Ohio along the Ohio River.

The population in Cabell County in 2020 was 94,346 people. The recent estimates for 2022 show that the population in this county is now 92,730. In terms of the number of people lost in the county, this is one of the fastest-shrinking counties in West Virginia. Roughly 1,616 people left this region between 2020 and 2022. Put another way, 1.72% of the population departed this county.

2. Raleigh County

Children Skiing

Winterplace Ski Resort is known for being friendly to new and intermediate skiers.

©Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 1,6992.28%

Raleigh County is in southern West Virginia. The county is known for being home to Winterplace Ski Resort. Beckley is the largest city in the region, and it had a population of about 17,286 people in 2020.

The 2020 U.S. Census found that the population in this county was 74,581 people. Recent estimates for 2022 show that the population decreased to 72,882 people. That is equal to a total loss in population of 1,699 people, a number that equals 2.28% of the total population in the county. So, this loss was significant for the county.

1. Kanawha County, West Virginia

Charleston, West Virginia, USA downtown skyline on the river at dusk.

Charleston is the largest city by population in the state.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Population LossPercent Loss
Population Lost: 5,2292.89%

Kanawha County is in the southwestern part of the state, and it has the Kanawha River running through it. The county is home to Charleston, the state capital and the largest city by population in the state.

Kanawha County in West Virginia had a population of 180,744 people in 2020. By 2022, the population had contracted to 175,515 people. That makes this the fastest-shrinking county in West Virginia by total population lost.

The population lost in this part of the state was 5,229 people, a huge loss in sheer numbers. This population change is equal to a loss of 2.89%.

Many of the counties that had the largest population losses were in the southwestern part of the state. Yet, no single, solid trend has emerged to explain the population loss in these recent years. The state is not home to large metropolises from which people would flee as a result of the recent economic instability and COVID-19 pandemic.

So, it seems that the ongoing issues that have plagued the states for over a decade continue to make them lose population. Those issues include:

  • Fewer high-paying jobs
  • Less access to entertainment
  • Lack of population replacement
  • Poor access to modern fixtures, like bad phone and internet reception.

Each of these factors could explain why the population continues to shrink in this area, but it’s doubtful that they are the only reasons people are leaving West Virginia.

Summary of the 7 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in West Virginia

RankCountyPopulation Loss
1Kanawha County5,229
2Raleigh County1,699
3Cabell County1,616
4Logan County1,256
5Harrison County1,007
6Mingo County1,001
7Fayette County998

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Artyom Lezhnyuk/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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