Story by Matthew Parks, Staff writer
Recent population projections released by the Kentucky State Data Center predict that counties in the Jackson Purchase region will ultimately decline in population over the next 35 years, with the exception of Calloway County.
Matthew Ruther, director of the data center and assistant professor at the University of Louisville, said over the next 15 years, all counties in the region will likely experience an increase in population, followed by a decrease in the next 20, leading to an eventual decrease overall.
He said the steady increase in the population of Calloway County is because of Murray State. He said counties with such institutions are the ones that usually continue to grow regardless of other trends.
Ruther said while the Jackson Purchase region will likely experience some losses, it is the easternmost part of the state that is projected to suffer the largest decline in population.
“Overall, western Kentucky will probably lose some population growth in the future,” Ruther said. “However, I don’t expect that it will be a tremendous amount.”
Ruther said it is likely the main cause of the expected population decrease is the aging population of the baby boomers, those who were born in a period of marked birth rate increase following World War II from approximately 1946 to 1964.
As this group ages, Ruther said he predicts there will be an increase in death rates coupled with an either neutral or negative birth rate, which will be largely responsible for population decreases across Kentucky, including the Jackson Purchase region.
Ruther said his preliminary reports indicated that the Jackson Purchase region is home to an above average number of baby boomers, which could increase the effects felt.
He said there are negative effects on the local economy which come with population decreases.
“The repercussions of population loss are a smaller potential tax base and basic financial issues,” Ruther said. “You have a population that is older, which can lead to a smaller work force as well as issues with transportation.”
He said while the projections are based on trends from the last five years and the 2010 census, they are still projections and therefore subject to change.
Michael Price, former interim director, researched and wrote another report for the Kentucky State Data Center that agrees with many of Ruther’s projections.
Price said he believes a major cause of population loss in rural parts of the state is out migration, or the mass movement of populations from one region to another, as people move towards more urban areas of the state or out of the state altogether.
“As migration selectively removes young adults, local birth rates drop and death rates rise,” Price said.
He said this out migration is why Kentucky’s overall population will increase over the next 35 years, but most counties in the Jackson Purchase region will decrease.
Price said the baby boomer generation’s increasing age is important, and he believes it will likely be the most important factor that affects the Jackson Purchase area’s population growth.
“The sheer size of the baby boomer generation has produced an actuarial inevitability,” Price said. “Their presence has impacted the age structure – lowering the median age from 1950 to 1970 and raising it over each decade since.”
He said he worries about the more rural parts of Kentucky, because he believes they are the ones that will be hit hardest by population loss.
“Throughout much of the delta regions of Western Kentucky and the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, negative population momentum has been building for decades,” Price said. “As a result, the viability of these communities is threatened.”
While many areas in the Jackson Purchase region may suffer population loss, census data results from the Census Bureau show that Calloway County–and Murray specifically–should continue to grow.
The data shows that from 2010 to 2015, Calloway County experienced a 3.1 percent growth in population and is expected to continue growing in the future.
“The main reason we did this research is to help local governments plan for the future,” Ruther said. “It shouldn’t scare local residents; nothing is set in stone.”