More than half of Kentucky's counties losing population, Census - WDRB 41 Louisville News

More than half of Kentucky's counties losing population, Census data shows

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Population is falling in more than half of Kentucky’s 120 counties, with rural areas bearing the brunt of losses from lagging birth rates and people moving elsewhere.

In all, 32 counties east of Lexington had fewer people in 2014 than during the 2010 Census, while Fulton County in far western Kentucky posted the biggest drop – eight percent – over that period.

The fastest-growing areas were in the state’s “Golden Triangle” of Louisville, Lexington and the Cincinnati suburbs, which accounted for all but one of the 10 counties with the biggest gains.

Those findings, included in recent Census Bureau reports, highlight the gap between growing urban parts of the state and shrinking rural ones. For example, only eight of the 66 counties that lost population are in metropolitan areas.

The trend is not new, but it is accelerating. Between 2000 and 2005, 31 Kentucky counties had population losses, or more than double the number during the 1990s, according to the Rural Policy Research Institute.

Recognizing the population declines and other obstacles facing eastern Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers joined with other state and federal leaders in 2013 and launched an effort meant to create jobs and improve the quality of life in the eastern half of the state.

The population changes help explain why Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, was established, said Jared Arnett, the organization’s executive director.

“That’s one of the expected outcomes -- that we can slow that trend down and hopefully reverse it,” Arnett said. “That’s really the mission of SOAR … to grow this community so that it’s an attractive place and that there are opportunities for the next generation and it’s a place to move to and not away from.”

Appalachian counties had eight of the 10 biggest population declines in Kentucky from 2010 to 2014, led by a 5.2 percent drop in Owsley County, the data shows. Perry, Morgan and Letcher counties all had losses of 4 percent or higher during that time.

The state-leading population drop in Fulton County, Kentucky's westernmost county on the Missouri and Tennessee borders, amounted to about 550 residents. George A. Jones, a county magistrate, said young residents who leave simply aren’t returning.

“When they get out of school and go to college, they don’t come back here,” he said. “They need to go somewhere else to make money.”

Jones said industrial buildings in the county are largely full, but he acknowledged that county leaders need to help increase job training so Fulton is ready “when a plant comes in.”

“I think we will get better with time,” he said.  

More than 1,300 rural and small-town counties in the U.S. have lost population since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



A net decline in residents can be devastating to local economies, said Tim Marema, vice president for the Center for Rural Strategies, which has a Whitesburg, Ky. office.

“It can start a spiral of related problems: Fewer kids in the schools, fewer people to purchase goods and services and support businesses that employ people,” he said.

The Census data also shows a declining youth population in the state:

-Despite a modest 1.7 percent increase in the overall population since 2010, Kentucky has fewer younger residents. The population 10 years old and younger fell by more than 7,000 people, or 1.25 percent during that time.

- About 85 percent of Kentucky residents were non-Hispanic white, down roughly 1 percentage point from 2010.

-The biggest losses in the 10-and-under group were among non-Hispanic whites, which declined by nearly three percent. By comparison, that age group grew among Hispanic (+7 percent), Asian (+5 percent) and black (+2 percent) residents.

-Jefferson County grew by 2.6 percent, adding nearly 19,000 residents since 2010. The under-10 population climbed slightly, by 0.6 percent.

Among Kentucky cities with at least 5,000 people, Vine Grove in Hardin County grew the fastest. It added about 600 people, a nearly 12 percent increase. While smaller, neighboring Meade County’s Muldraugh (+8 percent) and Brandenburg (+9 percent) also ranked near the top.  

The growth comes as Fort Knox has wrestled with a boom-and-bust cycle of military and civilian jobs as part of a national base realignment plan announced in 2005.

“We as a region have been pretty fortunate even with the budget cuts right now that are affecting the Army,” said Wendell Lawrence, executive director of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, which includes eight counties south of Louisville.

But the city with the most dramatic growth in Kentucky was Blackey, according to the Census estimates. It added 40 people since 2010, bringing the total population to 160. That amounts to a 31 percent jump.

The city doesn’t have a mayor. In fact, local officials say they’re trying to dissolve the small, sixth-class city in Letcher County in southeastern Kentucky.

Why is it growing?

Some Blackey natives who have retired after working elsewhere have moved back, as have younger residents, said Doris Adams, a longtime resident. She describes the city, located on a bend of the North Fork of the Kentucky River, as a place where children can play in the street.

When asked about the Census numbers in a recent telephone interview, she was quick to respond.

“The only thing I can think of,” she said, “is that it’s an absolutely perfect place to live.”

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