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Editorial: Demographic shifts could mean a problem for N.Va.

If population growth stagnates or declines, remaining residents will be left to pay the bill

Is Northern Virginia destined to see a sustained, ongoing contraction in its population level?

The question is debatable, indeed is highly debated. And as a part of our Spring Real Estate Guide this week, we bring an analysis from the Virginia Realtors’ trade group that offers a glimpse into the future that should be a cautionary tale.

Using data from the Demographic Research Group at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, Sejal Naik (deputy economist for Virginia Realtors) paints a picture of people continuing to gravitate away from larger metro areas to smaller ones.

That shift traces its roots to the pandemic, perhaps in part owing to health concerns but more likely to changing work requirements.

And now, four years since COVID struck? “The migration trends that were fueled by the pandemic are expected to stay,” noted Naik.

One nugget from the data: Loudoun County, which typically can count on a net increase of 10,000 or so residents each year, saw just 11 more people moving in than leaving in 2023. (There are many factors at play, but the fact that Loudoun has become a poster child for whackadoodle, dysfunctional school leadership certainly can’t be helping.)

As leaders across Northern Virginia continue to plan for the future, they acknowledge the demographic shifts – up to a point, at least – but seem unperturbed by them.

Perturbed, however, they indeed should be.

It’s becoming clear there will be no 100-percent return to pre-COVID normalcy. Now that people, particularly in the middle class, can vote with their feet to escape gold-plated tax bills of Northern Virginia, we may only have seen the start of changes that will roil the waters.

Which, as one letter-writer recently pointed out, leaves residents who plan to stick it out with only two options as the local tax burden increasingly falls upon them: Take action to rein in local governments, or grin and bear it.