Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area Has Nation’s 8th-Highest Rate of Population Decline; Weirton-Steubenville MSA Is 6th
WHEELING — The metropolitan areas that contain much of the Northern Panhandle have two of the nation’s 10 worst rates of population decline, according to recent census data.
The Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area — which contains Ohio and Marshall counties in West Virginia and Belmont County in Ohio — placed eighth on the list, according to a report published in USA Today. The Weirton-Steubenville MSA — comprised of Hancock and Brooke counties in West Virginia and Jefferson County in Ohio — was sixth.
The Wheeling MSA’s population dropped 4.5 percent, from 147,901 people in 2010 to an estimated 141,254 in 2017. Of that loss, 3,761 was attributed to migration out of the area.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said Wheeling’s population, being older than the national median age, would tend to contribute to a declining population.
“I’ve looked at this in years past. When you look at our population data, we have a very older population when you look at it demographically,” Elliott said. “I think our median age is 46, whereas nationally it’s 38. What that means is we’re going to have a lot more people in the obituaries just because … people do die.
“When that rate is faster than people moving here, it looks like population is declining and people are fleeing, but in reality what’s happening is, it’s an aging population, and that population is dying at a rate you would expect. Until we get that age back in line with the national median, we’re going to see our population numbers go down some because people are dying at a higher rate here because they’re older.”
For the Wheeling MSA, the largest year-to-year change was between 2016 and 2017, when a population drop of 1,617 was recorded.
The Weirton-Steubenville metropolitan area, meanwhile, has been hit even harder, with a 4.9 percent population decline since 2010 — from 124,326 to 118,250. Of this, 2,086 was due to migration from the area, and the largest single-year drop was a decline of 1,379 between 2015 and 2016.
Weirton Mayor Harold Miller and Steubenville Mayor Jerry Barilla could not be reached for comment Thursday.
According to the USA Today report, three other MSAs at least partially within West Virginia were among the top 10: Charleston, Beckley and Cumberland, Md.
The Charleston MSA saw a 5.5 percent drop, third nationally. The second-place spot was taken by Johnstown, Penn., about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. The most severely affected city was Pine Bluff, Ark.
Staff Writer Alex Meyer contributed to this report.