Population across area continues to decline

WHEELING – Despite promises of job growth resulting from the local oil and natural gas boom, the aging Upper Ohio Valley has lost an estimated 1.2 percent of its population since the 2010 Census, figures released today indicate.

Despite modest overall increases in West Virginia and Ohio, total population in the local 10-county area – Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties in the Mountain State and Jefferson, Belmont, Monroe and Harrison counties in the Buckeye State – has dropped by an estimated 4,012 residents, from 328,701 to 324,689, according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Jefferson County saw the steepest decline in the region, losing 1.9 percent of its population. According to the estimates, Jefferson County’s 2012 population stands at 68,389, a loss of 1,320 people since 2010.

Steubenville, Toronto and Weirton also saw declines in their population. Steubenville’s estimated population fell by 230 residents, from 18,659 to 18,429. Toronto lost 119 residents, the estimates show, falling from 5,091 in 2010 to 4,972 in 2012.

That loss could be significant – if that downward trend continues and Toronto falls below 5,000 residents by the 2020 Census, it would lose its status as a city and become a village.

Weirton, meanwhile, saw its estimated population fall by 243 residents, from 19,746 in 2010 to an estimated 19,503 in 2012.

Each of the 10 area counties saw population loss, with the lowest being a 0.6-percent decline in Monroe County.

Christiadi, a demographer with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research who only uses one name, said aging population combined with comparatively few new manufacturing jobs to replace massive losses since the turn of the century have led to a slowdown in overall population growth.

Study after study has predicted major job growth as a result of natural gas drilling activity, but reality thus far has failed to match expectations. Christiadi believes continued low natural gas prices also may be to blame for sluggish job gains in the industry.

“It’s going to take a while. … In the near future, I don’t see that the price of natural gas is going to increase significantly, so that means we don’t see as many job opportunities as we expect in this industry,” said Christiadi.

Among other area communities, Mingo Junction also saw a significant drop in population. The village’s 2012 estimated population is 3,380, down from the 2010 number of 3,449.

Wintersville’s 2012 estimated population stands at 3,844, down from 3,917 in 2010.

Only one Upper Ohio Valley community saw its population grow – New Athens in Harrison County, which now has an estimated 327 residents compared to 320 a year ago.

In West Virginia, Christiadi said the growth that accounts for West Virginia’s slight overall population gain is concentrated in a few areas, including the Eastern Panhandle and the Morgantown and Huntington areas – both major university towns. A younger population usually translates to a higher birth rate, Christiadi said, and job creators are attracted to such areas with a large pool of young, skilled people who may be more willing to work for entry-level wages.

Wellsburg saw its estimated 2012 population fall to 2,769 from 2,795 in 2010, while Follansbee’s estimated 2012 number stood at 2,956, down from 2,986 in 2010.