New Castle News

Editorials

April 1, 2014

Our Opinion: Another census report shows local population drop

NEW CASTLE — Well, it happened again.

The latest release of data by the U.S. Census Bureau offered estimates that Lawrence County lost population in 2013.

The agency gauged the county’s population at 89,333 last year, compared to 89,766 the year before. That’s a drop of 433 people, or about 0.5 percent.

It could be worse, we suppose. In the two years prior to that, the population decline in the county was pegged at about 600 people each year.

In commenting on the report, Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig cited reports indicating that 80 percent of rural counties in the United States lost population. In other words, Lawrence County is not alone.

Indeed, there is evidence to support that view. Yet that really doesn’t help matters here.

And while population loss in rural areas is nothing new, we must point out that Lawrence County is continuing a long, painful slide in its population. This isn’t a problem that’s popped up in the last few years. It’s now been a trend for more than half a century.

The same census data revealing population losses in Lawrence County also cited population gains in parts of the United States seeing substantial development from natural gas production.

Perhaps that’s a positive population signal for this area. The shale gas boom has not yet had the impact here that’s been experienced elsewhere, but it does show signs of growing.

On the other hand, even with the influx of shale gas operations in this region in recent years, the county is still losing people.

We have argued in the past that a declining population reflects Lawrence County’s greatest economic and social threat. The consequences of a decades-long and unabated drop in the local population causes damage in a variety of ways.

Yet you won’t find it on the front burner of public issues that are being addressed. It’s as if the loss of population is a natural occurrence that can’t be helped.

We don’t claim this problem is easy to resolve. On the other hand, we refuse to accept that an ongoing loss of human resources in Lawrence County is inevitable and unavoidable. And while it may happen in other places, it doesn’t happen everywhere.

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing its existence. The county’s declining population shouldn’t be seen as the consequence of other problems, but a threat in its own right.

It’s a threat to the community and all of its institutions, public and private.

And maybe that’s the key to addressing it. If everyone is dealing with the same problem, that ought to be an incentive to work together on answers.

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