US States Who Are Losing Their Population

The decline in coal mining in West Virginia has resulted in many people leaving the state in search of employment.
The decline in coal mining in West Virginia has resulted in many people leaving the state in search of employment.

As the overall population in the US increases, some states indicate a decline, stagnation, or a very slow population growth. Each of these states have unique reasons as to why they do not experience population growth like the others. Between 2016 and 2017, West Virginia, Illinois, and Vermont had negative population growth while Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Mississippi had little population growth. The main parameter in calculating the growth is the number of births minus number of deaths. Other parameters include immigration and emigration (both domestic and international) and fertility.

States with Negative Population Growth

During the period, West Virginia had a -1.18 growth, while Illinois and Vermont had -0.23 and -0.18 respectively.

West Virginia

For decades, the population of West Virginia remained relatively flat until recently when it started declining. Although this state remained economically stable during the Great Depression, recent changes may have led to its declining population. Such factors include the decline in the coal-mining sector that had a ripple effect in employment and other opportunities prompting many workers to leave the state in search of greener pastures. West Virginia has one of the highest unemployment rates in the US and approximately 17.9% of the population live in poverty. West Virginia also had deaths that exceeded new birth, not because of a low life expectancy but reduced fertility and increased family planning.


In Illinois, many people have been leaving the state of the past few years, specifically 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Land of Lincoln, Illinois has one of the largest emigration rates in the US, a situation that seems to be accelerating. Illinois’ economy and labor market are weak, and many employees seek early retirement and move to other states with warmer climates. Apart from Chicago metropolitan, most of Illinois’s economy depends on agriculture and manufacturing which do not generate jobs for most of the population. The recent decline in population can also be because of the financial troubles. Those leaving also cite high taxes, poor weather, and crime as the reasons for leaving.


Just like West Virginia, Vermont also has an old population by median age, consequently, Vermont also has a low birth rate which has been on the decline for the past three decades. In 2016, Vermont had just 6,035 births, the lowest in the state since the late nineteenth century. In addition to this factor, many people also leave the state for reasons discussed in the last part of this article. Vermont also has one of the lowest influx of foreign-born settlers. Vermont also loses many people to other states in search of jobs and higher wages. This state has some of the best-educated people and may find little opportunities that match their skills in the state. Other reasons given for the movement include the search for culturally diverse societies, low cost of living, and search for better infrastructure. When fewer people move into a state than those who move out, then it means that the state has several undesirable qualities that overwhelm its resources.

States with Low Population Growth

The states with low population growth include Connecticut (0.07), Maine (0.23) Rhode Island (0.27) Michigan (0.45) Pennsylvania (0.64) Ohio (0.67), and Mississippi (0.72). The cause in Connecticut may be due to a slow economy that resulted in thousands of people leaving the state each year since 2014. People, especially young professionals who fail to land a job, leave the state for greener pastures. Others include employed professionals who leave for promotions lacking in the state which has not experienced economic development in over 20 years. The case of emigration is similar in Mississippi which has the fourth steepest net migration. The number of childbirths tends to balance the losses thus the low growth. Those who leave Mississippi cite the depressed economy and low quality of life. The state has one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the US. The situation on outward migration is similar in Pennsylvania which has an additional low birth-to-death ratio. Maine has an old population that results in low birth rates in addition to people moving to other states. These challenges replicate in most of the states with low population growth with some showing indications of stagnation or even decline in the near future.

US States Who Are Losing Their Population

RankStateGrowth Rate
1West Virginia-1.18
6Rhode Island0.27

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