Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Population loss and gain in the Ozarks

The Newton County Times reported a few weeks ago on what the 2010 Census tells us about changing demographics in the county. The Feb. 16, 2011 headline is "Census: County lost 3.2%," and the story indicates that the county's population dropped from 8,608 in 2000 to 8,330 in 2010. The 2005-2009 ACS estimate for the county, at 8,311, was surprisingly close to the 2010 actual count.

The 2005-2009 ACS estimates for the county's two incorporated areas were less accurate. Jasper's population fell from 498 to 466 between 2000 and 2010, though the 2005-2009 ACS estimate put it at a much lower 357. Western Grove's population fell from 407 to 384 between 2000 and 2010, while the 2005-2009 ACS estimate has indicated a 20% increase, to 518.

The only neighboring county whose population also fell was Searcy County, which dropped less than 1%, from 8,261 to 8,195. Other surrounding counties saw relatively robust growth:

Pope County: a rise of 13.4% from 54,469 to 61,754
Johnson County: a 12.1% rise from 22,781 to 25,540
Madison County: a 10.3% rise from 14,243 to 15,717
Boone County: an 8.7% rise from 33,948 to 36,903

Data for neighboring Carrol County, which had a 2000 population of 25,357, was not provided. Carroll County has experienced an influx of Latina/o immigrants in the past few decades, and I would be surprised if its population fell between 2000 and 2010. Its 2005-2009 ACS estimate was 27,321.

The differences among these counties may be explained by their economies. Newton and Searcy counties are persistent poverty counties with very small populations, while surrounding counties tend to be micropolitan and to have more robust and diversified economies. Surrounding counties are also more likely to be economically entangled with even larger and more prosperous neighboring counties, in some cases serving as exurbs to metropolitan areas such as those in Washington and Sebastian counties.

This story also indicates that Newton County's participation rate in the Census was particularly low, at 60% for the entire county and 67% for the city of Jasper. This low participation rate, the story notes, results in a significant loss of federal funding for "schools, parks and other public facilities." Sadly, this may reflect the locals' distrust of the government.

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