New Castle News

Editorials

May 31, 2013

Our Opinion: Declines recorded all across Lawrence County in latest data

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County’s long trend of population decline was highlighted when the Census Bureau reported yet another drop.

Last month, the bureau said that the county’s population fell from 91,108 in 2010 to 89,871 in 2012. This compares to figures from 1960, when the county’s population was recorded at 112,965.

The numbers tell a troubling story, and one that has evolved over a long period of time as the county’s population decline has not only persisted, but also shows no sign of letting up.

But recently, the Census Bureau released a new set of population estimates, which broke counties down by municipality. And here’s a startling detail in the figures for Lawrence County: All but two municipalities here recorded population declines during the 2010-2012 period. And of these two, SNPJ borough maintained the same population, while New Wilmington grew by just one person.

Whenever one thinks about Lawrence County and population losses, the city of New Castle usually comes to mind. This is by far the largest municipality in the county and its population drop has been dramatic over the years.

And oftentimes, it appears New Castle’s loss has been a gain for surrounding townships, as people moved out of the city to more suburban areas.

However, this new census report suggests the local population problem is more than a New Castle phenomenon. The data suggests a dilemma that’s far more broad based.

Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig, when asked by the New Castle News about the latest population numbers, expressed skepticism. He found it hard to believe so many municipalities had losses with virtually no gains.

And indeed, it’s a situation that is difficult to fathom. One would expect some pockets of the county to experience at least modest growth.

But while the census estimates may be imperfect and inexact, there is no denying the larger story they tell about Lawrence County and — to a large extent — much of western Pennsylvania.

This is a region that has been losing population at a sustained pace. And in many ways, it represents a problem that contributes to so many other challenges in the community.

New Castle, for example, has a glut of housing, with many dilapidated properties that are either difficult to sell or languish on the tax rolls. The deterioration of many homes lowers property values in neighborhoods, creating an ugly cycle.

As we have said previously, the area’s population decline demands greater public attention. It is not incidental to other issues in the community. It is a key.

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