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Census shows W.Va. has small population gain

by Brian Farkas

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON -- Berkeley County, the hub of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, saw its population grow by more than 28 percent during the 1990s, by itself accounting for more growth than the entire state.

In all, West Virginia added only 14,867 persons during the decade, but U.S. Census Bureau figures released Wednesday show Berkeley grew by 16,652. The eight-county Eastern Panhandle as a whole grew by 17.4 percent.

The growth, coupled with losses in the southern part of the state, reflects a shifting political and economic reality in West Virginia as the Eastern Panhandle counties benefit by their proximity to Washington and Baltimore and the south continues to be plagued by declines in the coal industry.

An immediate impact of the numbers will be the necessary redrawing of the state's three congressional districts.

The counties that currently make up the 2nd Congressional District, which includes the Eastern Panhandle, grew by more than 38,000 people. The 3rd District, generally the south and southwestern part of the state, lost 20,506. The 1st District, the Northern Panhandle and other northern counties, remained virtually unchanged.

West Virginia's legislative leaders have predicted that the state's shifting center of population will result in legislative gains for Eastern Panhandle at the expense of the south, which has long dominated the state's Legislature.

Legislative leaders plan to start work on redistricting during a special session later this year.

The numbers also show that while the percentage of minorities increased slightly, whites still outnumber other racial groups more than 9-to-1. The state also aged as the population over age 18 grew by about 4 percent, and under-18 dropped about 9 percent.

Direct racial comparisons to 1990 are not possible. Respondents in 1990 could only select from one of five categories: "white," "black," "American Indian, Eskimo or Aleutian," "Asian or Pacific Islander" and "some other race."

The 2000 census gave people the option of choosing from one of 63 options, including "white," "black or African American," "American Indian and Alaska Native," "Asian," "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" and "some other race."

Whites accounted for 95 percent of West Virginia's population in 2000, compared to 96.2 percent in 1990; blacks were 3.2 percent in 2000, compared to 3.1 percent in 1990. All other groups grew less than 1 percent.

Overall, 28 of the state's 55 counties posted gains during the last decade, with growth tending to be in rural counties located adjacent to the state's more populated ones.

With a few exceptions, counties located in southern West Virginia, south of U.S. 60, continued a pattern of population losses started more than 20 years ago.

McDowell County, located in West Virginia's southern coal-producing region, lost 22 percent of its population during the same period.

Since 1980, McDowell County's population has fallen from 49,899 to 27,329, a drop of 22,570.

Of the 14 counties in the southeastern and southwestern West Virginia, only four -- Raleigh, Lincoln, Monroe and Wayne -- grew, ranging from 3 percent to 18 percent.

After losing 4 percent of its population during the 1980s, Monroe County in West Virginia's extreme southwestern tip, grew by 1,710 people, or 18 percent.

Between 1990 and 2000, West Virginia's population grew by 0.8 percent -- from 1,793,477 to 1,808,344.

Much of that growth has centered on the Eastern Panhandle, where residents have been trying to cope with growth, which is slowly turning what once was farm country into shopping centers and housing developments.

In all, the eight Eastern Panhandle counties added 32,664 people during the decade, while the rest of the state lost 17,797. In addition to Berkeley and Jefferson, the other counties are Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Morgan and Pendleton.

The 14-county southern counties lost 27,122 persons. Those counties are: Boone, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Raleigh, Summers, Wayne and Wyoming.

The census figures also will be used to redistribute more than $185 billion a year in federal money among states and communities.

A fear of losing federal funds prompted officials across the state to conduct drives to ensure people responded to the census. Overall, West Virginia had a 64 percent response rate.

The two largest cities -- Charleston and Huntington -- had been especially worried about dropping below 50,000, a key threshold for federal funding.

Charleston's population dipped to 53,421 people, down from 57,287 in 1990. Huntington's population dropped from 54,844 to 51,475, a drop of 3,369.

Martinsburg in Berkeley County grew from 14,073 to 14,972, up by 899.

West Virginia maintains the highest median age in the nation, 38.7, and the numbers show the state's population over age 18 grew 56,051, while the under-18 population fell 41,184 during the decade.

West Virginia school officials have been combating continued drops in school enrollment and the numbers released

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