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At a COVID-19 response press briefing on July 27, Governor Jim Justice said West Virginia is the ‘oldest’ state in terms of population, making it extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.
West Virginia isn’t the nation’s oldest state, but it’s among the oldest. It has the third-highest population of people aged at least 65, and it has the fourth-oldest median age in the country.
As the number of COVID-19 cases was rising in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice warned that the state’s elderly population would be vulnerable if the virus’ spread was not contained.
"West Virginia, you are the oldest state," Justice said at a July 27 press briefing, at the 9:22 minute mark. "You are the most chronically ill state. You have the most lung problems of any state. You are sitting right with all the border states––all the way around you––you are sitting within a rock’s throw of two-thirds of the population of the whole country. You could explode in the most negative way that you could ever fathom."
Some of these metrics were too nebulous to measure, but we decided to take a closer look at age. Does West Virginia have the highest population of elderly residents in the country?
We found that it doesn’t, but that it does rank near the top.
There are at least two obvious ways to analyze how old a state’s population is.
One of those is the percentage of the population made up by people 65 or older. According to 2019 Census Bureau data, 20.5% of West Virginia’s population is made up of people at least 65 years old. That ranks West Virginia the third highest of any state, behind Maine and Florida. (Puerto Rico, which is not a state, would rank higher than any of these three states.)
Another way to measure a state’s age is to take the median age of the population.
Census data for 2018 shows that West Virginia’s median age was 42.7 years. That ranked it fourth in the country. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont all had higher median ages, as did Puerto Rico.
Justice would have been correct two decades ago. The 2000 Census found that West Virginia did rank first in the country in median age, edging out Pennsylvania.
Justice did not respond to an inquiry for this article.
Justice said that West Virginia is the oldest state in the nation.
Justice has a point that West Virginia has an older population than many states, and as recently as two decades ago it did rank No. 1.
However, today, it’s not the oldest, by two different measures. West Virginia has the third-highest population of 65-and-over residents and the fourth-oldest median age of any state. So Justice wasn’t correct to say that his state is the nation’s oldest, but it does rank near the top.
We rate the statement Half True.
YouTube, "Gov. Justice holds press briefing on COVID-19 response," July 27, 2020
U.S. Census Bureau, persons 65 and over, accessed July 27, 2020
U.S. Census Bureau, Table 1: Median Age in 2010 and 2018 for U.S. and States, accessed July 27, 2020
U.S. Census Bureau, Age: 2000, October 2001
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