September 28, 2001
Sorting Through Census 2000
Of all the phrases uttered by economists over the years, one of the most prophetic for the American economy was made by Charles Tiebout in 1955. "People vote with their feet," were the words he wrote to rationalize the seemingly haphazard patterns of urban and regional growth that would shape the post-World War II economic landscape. The idea that population movements constitute a continuous referendum on the quality of life, efficiency of government, and variety of economic opportunities offered in cities and regions all across the country fits the more mobile, free-wheeling nature of the American economy like a glove. It also raises the very useful notion that communities everywhere are competing with each other for jobs, investment, and residents.
"The mountains of Denver, the sea shore of Cape Cod, or the physical proximity to markets enjoyed in Indiana cannot be replicated elsewhere. But technology can erode and transform those physical advantages. The invention of air conditioning has negated the sweltering summer climates that once relegated now-great cities like Atlanta and Houston to second tier status.
But the uneven nature of growth, in states of nearly equal physical characteristics, tells us that people move for reasons beyond physical beauty and comfort. To the east of the Red River, Minnesota's population grew by 12.4 percent in the last decade, while North Dakota to the west managed only a 0.5 percent gain. And in the Southeast, Georgia's population skyrocketed by 26.4 percent in the 1990's, leaving neighbor state Alabama, with only 10.1 percent more people, in their red dust.
If population gains are the bottom line of a state's economic development efforts, how has Indiana fared? If we use our immediate neighbors as a basis of comparison, the answer is quite well. In fact, Indiana's 9.7 percent increase in population between 1990 and 2000 was higher than Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, or Wisconsin. Our population increase of 536,326 people over that period was actually higher than the net population increase of Ohio, a state which in 1990 was nearly twice our size.
Looking within our state borders gives some insight on the factors that are driving that growth. The outer counties of the Indianapolis MSA were big gainers in the 2000 Census. Of the nine counties in Indiana with a 20 percent or higher population increase, five are in the state's largest metropolitan area. There are also healthy increases in the Indiana portions of the Chicago, Louisville and Cincinnati metro areas, as well as in the northeast corner of the state.
On the other side of the coin, the most striking region of slower population growth continues to be in East Central Indiana. Across a band running southeast from Peru down to Richmond are clustered 11 counties that could not even muster a 2 percent increase in population for the decade.
In the bigger field of national growth, however, Indiana's reasonable showing in population growth still trailed the national average, resulting in the state's forfeiture of a Congressional seat. And the relatively strong performance of a frost belt state like Minnesota tells us that more can be done here to attract and retain the businesses, investment and jobs that will allow us to prosper in the coming years.
About the Author
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