A street scene in Hancock County, which has lost nearly 10 percent of its population since 2010.
Photo: AJC file
Photo: AJC file

Metros draw population, economic growth

Rural Georgia losing population since 2010, Census analysis finds

Growth in Georgia has been concentrated in metro areas — and especially around Atlanta — in recent years, while many rural counties are struggling with population declines that translate to slower economic activity.

An analysis of Census Bureau data shows the state’s population expanded by 409,690 people since 2010, according to demographer Cheryl Russell, who hosts the blog Demo Memo.

Yet during that time, 82 of the state’s 159 counties either lost population or held steady, she found. The worst percentage loss was in rural Hancock County, southeast of Atlanta. It shed nearly 10 percent of its population.

Population is the crucial component of economic growth: more people generally means more transactions, more demand for goods and services, more innovation and ultimately more wealth.

Areas of the country that have lost population have typically also been those in economic decline.

In Georgia between 2010 and 2014, most of the gains were around metro Atlanta. The top gaining metro county was Forsyth, which expanded by 28,791 people, a 16.4 percent pace.

Tiny Long County, near the coast, gained residents at the most rapid clip in the state – 18.3 percent, but Long is a county of fewer than 18,000 and its growth was fewer than 2,700 people.

“Population decline is caused by two factors: more people moving out than in, and more deaths than births,” Russell wrote on her blog. A growing number of non-metro counties have experienced “the double jeopardy” of out-migration and natural decrease, she added.

The nation’s largest metros, with a population of 1 million or more, grew 4.2 percent between 2010 and 2014, she wrote, while smaller metropolitan areas grew 2.7 percent. Non-metropolitan counties as a whole lost 0.2 percent of their population during those years.

Many of the worst percentage losses in Georgia were in counties that are small, rural or both: Turner lost 8.7 percent of its population, Quitman dropped 7.9 percent, Twiggs shrunk 7.8 percent and Talbot declined 6.9 percent.

Dougherty lost the most people: 2,154, according to the Census data. Three other counties lost more than 1,000 people: Bibb, Sumter and Chattooga.

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