April 18, 2003
The Message in Population Movements
In the halls of academia, we often like to thumb our noses at the mass media. Behind the ivy-covered walls of the University, we consume ourselves in our lengthy books and manuscripts, and look upon the "sound bites" of information served up by television and newspapers with disdain.
But if the truth be told, we academics have our own little stocks of expressions and catch phrases that we use on each other to make our points. And in economics, at least, one of the most enduring sound bites, first uttered almost a half-century ago, applies with full force to the situation revealed in the latest Census data on population movements in our state's cities and towns.
"People," the expression goes, "vote with their feet." And if the interim estimates of 2002 population inIndiana 's 92 counties are any guide, those ballots are being cast all around us every day. The tallies of population gains reveal winners and losers in stark terms, reminding us all of an unpleasant, but unrelenting, fact. That is that economic opportunities are not distributed evenly throughout Indiana .
78,583 more people showed up within the borders of our state in 2002 than were counted in the decennial census in 2000, but almost 60 percent of that increase is accounted for just by the seven counties that share a border with Indianapolis . Paced by fast growth in Hamilton and Hendricks counties, these areas at the fringe of our largest city get a double boost when it comes to population growth.
Of course, these counties attract a disproportionately large share of new residents, who either relocate from within the greater metro area, or who migrate to central Indiana from elsewhere in the state or country. But the very fact that they contain so many new arrivals gives them a second boost. Since people who move tend to be younger, these counties have an even larger population edge in families of child-bearing age. Hamilton County alone, for example, had more than three times as many births as deaths in the last two years, a ratio that far outpaces any other county in the state.
The picture at the other end of the population growth spectrum is a lot less cheery. More than a quarter ofIndiana 's counties are estimated to have lost population in the last two years, with the biggest losers concentrated in two parts of the state. The first roughly coincides with the three counties of the Terre Hautemetro area, which had about 1,500 fewer people in 2002 from their census count of 2000.
But the east central part of the state has fared even worse. This cluster of counties, stretching from Rush County to the south up to Wabash County in the north, and including the cities ofMarion , Anderson , Muncie ,Richmond and Rushville, has lost almost 6,000 people in the last two years.
It would be nice if we could blame these downturns on the recession, but the data say otherwise. It represents a continuation of an unfortunate trend that began in 1979, and has resulted in a broad expanse of the state's real estate contributing nothing to population growth over the nearly twenty-five years that have elapsed since that time.
It’s difficult to assess precisely what factors have brought this about, but it’s never too late to get started on the task. Some have said that it is the decline in manufacturing's role in the economy, which certainly rings true. Yet Elkhart county, which is the most manufacturing-dominated economy in the nation, has enjoyed population growth over the last twelve years in excess of the state average.
One thing is certain. The development problems faced by the faster and slower growing regions of the state are quite different in nature. As we look to the state for solutions to the problems that we face, we should be mindful of that fact.
About the Author
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