The only state to lie completely within Appalachia, West Virginia is the only state to lose population in the last 10 years, according to recently-released data analysis by the non-profit The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Illinois showed a zero percent growth rate over that same period, making it the only other state to not gain population in the same period.

According to census data analyzed by the group, West Virginia has lost about 34,500 people since 2008. Over the last decade, the data showed West Virginia’s population dropped two-tenths of a percent each year on average.

“A shrinking or slow-growing populace can be both a cause and an effect of weakened economic prospect,” the authors stated. “Though a smaller population can lead to a reduction in some types of spending, it also means there are fewer residents to help cover the costs of long-standing commitments, such as debt and state employee retirement benefits.”

The researchers said West Virginia and Illinois had little to no population growth in-part because of their location. For decades, people have been moving away from states in the Northeast and Midwest toward warmer regions with better employment opportunities and lower costs of living.

West Virginia is also distinctive in that the state sees more deaths than births, and “has recorded population losses for the past six years” according to the analysis.

Nationwide, U.S. population growth has slowed. The Census Bureau expects population trends to continue downward citing low birth rates, aging baby boomers and slowing immigration.

The fastest-growing states were predominantly in the West and South, with Utah topping the list.

This story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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