New Castle News

April 3, 2013

Our Opinion: What to do about Lawrence County’s falling population?

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The population of Lawrence County is decreasing.

That’s not exactly news, because it’s been happening for quite some time.

How long? Official census data tells the disturbing tale. If you want to find the high point of Lawrence County’s population based on major census data released every 10 years, you have to go back to 1960. At that point, the county’s population stood at 112,965.

But every 10 years after that, the official census record reveals an unabated erosion of the county’s population. And by 2010, it had dropped to 91,108.

It gets worse. The Census Bureau releases snapshots of county population between the official reports. And for 2012, Lawrence County lost another 1,237 people, with the census standing at 89,871.

What this means is that this community has been losing people for generations. It’s not a hiccup and it’s not a fluke. It is a systemic condition we believe poses a fundamental challenge to any effort to promote economic health into the future.

But where are the serious public discussions about this problem? Where are the community forums and governmental sessions designed to explore the issue?

Obviously, a problem that has been ongoing for 50 years cannot be blamed on current officials or any particular group of past representatives. Plus, events in the private sector undoubtedly have more to do with this population loss than anything happening in its public counterpart.

Yet a sustained loss of population impacts a community in a variety of ways. For instance, it’s no secret that virtually every school district in Lawrence County is losing student population. The city of New Castle’s population loss is a major factor in its ongoing financial plight.

And check with local clubs, civic organizations and other groups in the county. Assuming they still exist, they are struggling to maintain an active membership large enough to keep themselves going.

Without people, retail businesses obviously suffer from fewer customers. Unless people can be enticed from outside the county to shop here, the population decline is a fatal blow to some businesses.

Discussions about economic development and related matters are commonplace around here. But rarely do we hear the issue framed around the community’s long-term population loss. Perhaps it has gone on so long that it has become little more than background noise.

But it’s much more than that. It is a key factor in this community’s future and a trend that must be reversed. It’s long past time to start talking about it.