Rural populations stall or decline in newest Census forecasts

Valley City resident Velma Phillips, right, and her granddaughter, Kaitlynn, watch trucks go by from Phillips’ home on Walnut Street. Valley City, with 13 residents, is the smallest incorporated place in Illinois. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jun. 24, 2013 9:53 am Updated: Jul. 8, 2013 2:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Illinois and Missouri are gaining population, but losing ground when compared with other states.

Population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau were released recently, showing Illinois grew by nearly 45,000 residents, or 0.3 percent, between the April 1, 2010, Census and the Census estimate of July 1, 2012. Missouri grew by 33,000 residents in those same 27 months to report 0.6 percent population growth.

Neither state came close to the national growth rate of 1.7 percent.

Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs as Western Illinois University, said the new population estimates are not a surprise.

"This is a decadeslong trend to be sure. Industrialization of our economic base of our heartland has left. A lot of those jobs went ... to the Sun Belt. Those jobs attracted a lot of people," Merrett said.

Most cities and villages in Western Illinois and Northeast Missouri had declining population in the 2012 estimates. Quincy was among those that bucked the trend, with estimated growth of 165 residents from 40,633 in the 2010 Census to 40,798 in 2012.

Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said the recession did not hit Quincy as hard as many communities. Even so, she wants to see economic development that will result in greater in-migration.

"We have so much to offer here in Quincy. We've got a high quality of life, but if we want people to move here or move back here, they've got to have a good job," Tracy said.

Chuck Bevelheimer, director of Quincy's Department of Planning and Development, was pleasantly surprised to hear that Quincy's estimate rose. He has seen few major subdivisions going up since the housing crisis hit six years ago.

"I guess one area where we have seen an increase is in the multifamily duplexes and rehab rental units," Bevelheimer said.

Valley City is the smallest incorporated place in Illinois, with 13 residents. The village along the Illinois River in Pike County maintained its population in the 2012 estimates, but has no likely way to rebuild population.

"We used to have a cheese company and two taverns," said Barb Gregory.

When the cheese factory jobs were lost, that led to a falling population, with no way to attract new residents.

"People are dying out and some are moving away" from rural communities, she said.

A retiree, Gregory's home near the river has been cut off by floodwater twice this year. In order to leave her home, she had to walk up a hill during those floods.

It's also an uphill battle for other communities to grow their populations.

Analysts with the Missouri Office of Administration drafted a population trends paper in 2007 that said growth would probably be slower than national averages.

"Projections indicate that Missouri's growth will slow in the coming decades. Overall growth between 2000 and 2030 will average roughly 6 percent per decade," the study found.

John Blodgett, who worked on that study, is from the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. He said the number of working-age Missourians has been declining somewhat as more people retire.

"That's accelerating now because so many baby boomers are retiring, and the bad economy has forced some people to take early retirement," Blodgett said.

According to state and federal figures, about 10 percent of Missouri's population was 65 years of age or older in 1950. By 2000, their ranks had risen to 13 percent, and by 2030, that age group is expected to represent 21 percent of the population.

"What baby boomers will do will be key to rural migration and growth," said Jason Henderson, associate dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture and a former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Henderson said baby boomers who have retired in recent years have not moved back to the country at the rates expected by demographers. Part of that may have involved the housing crisis that reduced home values in urban areas more than in rural America. The great recession also hit the retirement accounts of many baby boomers, the oldest of whom will turn 68 this year.

"Many have been delaying retirement," Henderson said.

Merrett said rural declines reflect several things.

"With the efficiencies in agriculture, we don't need as many people on the farms," Merrett said.

"We send our kids off to college and it's tough to get them back ... because they can get higher paying jobs in the urban areas."

Blodgett keeps an eye on Census Bureau migration figures that are tracked when people file their federal income tax returns. In Northeast Missouri, the number of people moving into each county is nearly equal to the number moving out.

"Unless you get a prison or something big, you probably won't see any big changes," Blodgett said.

Merrett doesn't necessarily see the very slow growth in the region as a problem. He speculates that people's concerns have more to do with perceptions than with reality.

"What's kind of interesting is that farmers are doing pretty well, but the communities are the heart of the rural counties aren't doing as well" if keeping or boosting population is the only measure of success, Merrett said.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.





 Population Estimates 
 County                2010      2012 
 Adams              67,103    67,197 
 Brown                6,937    6,914 
 Hancock           19,104    18,891 
 Pike                 16,430    16,308 
 Marion (Mo.)     28,781    28,745 
 Lewis (Mo.)      10,211    10,174