WHEELING – If and when U.S. Census Bureau data shows the City of Wheeling’s population has stabilized or even shown some growth, Mayor Glenn Elliott will likely be the first person in line to comment on this historic achievement – regardless whether or not he is in office at the time this occurs.
But now is not the time, as the latest census data reveals.
Since taking office as the city’s mayor, Elliott has been asked repeatedly — year after year, when new U.S. Census figures and estimates are released — about his thoughts on the city’s continuing population decline. town. Each time, he offered an optimistic view of the situation, explaining that Wheeling has been experiencing population loss since the mid-1930s and noting the fact that the figures indicating the percentage of population loss for the city in recent years decades has steadily declined.
Elliott has been asked so many times about Wheeling’s population loss during his tenure that when he celebrated the birth of his son earlier this year, he joked that he and his wife were taking a frontal approach to combat the continuing decline of the city’s population. .
The US Census Bureau released new population estimates for cities and towns last week, showing the city of Wheeling continues to lose residents.
According to new resident population estimates for incorporated places in the Mountain State, Wheeling’s estimated population fell from 27,009 to approximately 26,568 from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021.
Asked about the new numbers, the mayor said on Saturday his thoughts on the situation remained the same.
“Although Wheeling has been losing population since the 1930s, the rate of that decline since 1990 has declined significantly, so much so that I expect our population to bottom out in this decade and actually show an increase by 2030,” Elliott said. “But for now, we continue to pay the price for the past emigration of young people who left Wheeling with a statistically older population in which it is inevitable to have a higher death rate than births.”
The “brain drain” effect of a community losing educated and skilled workers to other areas where better job opportunities exist has been cited as a problem throughout the Ohio Valley during decades, leading to a massive exodus of young people.
“For us at the municipal administration, the challenge remains the same. We need to ensure that Wheeling is a community that provides economic opportunity, affordable living options and a high quality of life for today’s workforce, which is more mobile and selective than ever,” said Elliott said.
Aside from Morgantown – which showed in recent census figures a very slight estimated growth of around 60 people, most towns of a similar size to Wheeling have also lost a few hundred people over the past year.
West Virginia was the state that led the nation in percentage population loss over the last surveyed decade when the 2020 U.S. Census figures were revealed. Only Puerto Rico saw a steeper decline, according to the data, with an 11.8% percentage loss, followed by West Virginia with a 3.2% decline. Only Illinois and Mississippi also posted losses – slight declines of 0.1% and 0.2%, respectively. All other states showed growth from 2010 to 2020, with Idaho, Utah, Texas, North Dakota and Nevada showing growth rates of 15% or more.
The struggle to keep West Virginia residents in the state and to attract new people is ongoing. Local officials noted that the remote workforce trend — especially in the post-pandemic world — has opened new doors to more rural communities. It was noted that more and more young people are actually staying in the area and returning home after college and embarking on gainful careers. In Wheeling, the trend of private companies pouring millions of dollars into building new residential units in the downtown area and beyond is also giving local officials hope that the city’s declining population will soon see the end of a long chapter in the history of Wheeling.
“We must continue to paint a picture of Wheeling that stands in stark contrast to the stubborn stereotypes of West Virginia that have defined our state and our region for too many years,” Elliott said. “An establishment that is open for business while being accommodating and welcoming to all.”