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Losing Young People, Keeping Older People

Charleston Daily Mail

May 6, 2011

West Virginians are getting older. Kanawha Countians are getting older. Charlestonians are getting older. The Mountain State continues to leak young people.

The number of people between the ages of 24 and 44 - the prime workforce years - declined by 8.6 percent over the past 10 years.

That fact casts a shadow over the future of the state. West Virginia needs to change its economic policies sharply to get things moving in the right direction.

The current trends are disquieting.

The latest Census data shows that the median age of state residents rose from 38 in 2000 to 41 in 2010.

The median age of Kanawha County residents went from 40 in 2000 to 41 in 2010. The median age of Charleston residents rose from 40 in 2000 to 41 in 2010.

"This means that people like me are staying here and younger people aren't," Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, 60, told the Daily Mail's Paul Fallon.

A troubling trend shows up in housing statistics, too.

The number of owner-occupied housing units in the city declined from 14,230 in 2000 to 13,752 in 2010. That was also true of the county, which had 60,618 owner-occupied homes in 2000 and only 57,784 in 2010.

"Fewer people owning homes is a concern," Jones said. "The more home ownership you have in an area, the less crime you have."

Yes, the recession may have affected some of these economic markers.

But Acting Commissioner Barbara Reynolds of the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services pointed out than an average of 73 people in this state turn 60 every day.

Fewer young workers and more older people is a combination that spells trouble. In economically healthy realms, these indicators go the other way.

For several generations now, West Virginians have raised children, educated them, and then helped them pack their cars for the trip to new jobs in other states.

They don't have enough opportunity here.

With a special gubernatorial election coming up this fall, that's what the conversation should be about.

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