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October 28, 2015 - Kim Moore [see other posts]

This Place for Sale - Will Trade for City

Heading to Zero?

The recent release of the 2014 Kansas Statistical Abstract won't make front page news. Nerd that I am, of course I had to take a look. Electronic access to the publication is easy. You can check my numbers and conclusions yourself at: http://ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/ksah/.

My personal long-term reason to check the Abstract is to watch the trends related to rural Kansas. As a child of Elk County in southeast Kansas and raised by the penultimate community booster (my father, Everett Moore), I remain interested in what is happening in frontier and rural Kansas - particularly my own corner of near-southeast Kansas. The truth is, I keep hoping to find some evidence that the decades-long decline of rural Kansas is ending. Regrettably, this edition of the Abstract provides no encouragement along those lines.

One of the fundamental indicators of the health of an area is the growth or decline of its population. Twenty-one of Kansas' 105 counties declined by more than 10% in the 2000-2010 decade (Elk County was down 11.6%). The Abstract has an interesting map "Census Year of Maximum Population by Kansas County 1890-2010." Census Year of Maximum Population by Kansas County 1890-2010

Several counties had their maximum population 125 years ago (five or six generations): Republic, Washington, Mitchell, Cloud, Clay, Ottawa, Osage, Anderson, Linn, Bourbon, Elk, and Chautauqua. Many others (55) maxed out in the 1900-1930 period. What does this look like (again using Elk as an example)?

Elk County Population 1900-2010
Year 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Pop.: 10,623 12,216 11,443 10,128 9,034 9,210 8,180 6,679 5,048 3,858 n/a 3,327 3,261 2,882

From 1890 to 2010, by actual census count, Elk County's population has declined by 76%!

The bad news does not stop with 2010. Using demographic estimation beyond the actual federal census records, the Abstract projects population in that county declined by 6.52% since 2010 - to 2,694 residents by July 2014. Although that is the largest percentage decline in the period, six other counties are in the 4% and 5% decline estimations over those short four years. Demographers try to analyze the source of this decline and look at two elements: the difference between births and deaths, and the net in and out migration. To take the focus off of Elk County, here are samples looking at the same factors for some other low-population counties scattered around the state:

Natural Increase & Net Migration April 1, 2010 - July 1, 2014
County 2010 Pop. Births Deaths Natural
Increase
Net
Migration
Combined
Change
Allen 13,371 637 744 -107 -344 -451
Chase 2,790 102 118 -16 -68 -84
Chautauqua 3,669 150 219 -69 -138 -207
Gray 6,006 364 176 188 -126 62
Lane 1,750 93 99 -6 -68 -74
Phillips 5,642 294 296 -2 -101 -103
Washington 5,799 266 302 -36 -154 -190

From the full chart, I counted 44 counties where deaths exceeded births and 84 counties where net migration was negative.

Prognostications of population trends beyond 2014 are also found in the Abstract. Looking forward from 2010 to 2040, the demographers predict that only the following 21 counties will gain population:

Hamilton - 9.1%   Ellis - 4.2%   Ford - 10.3%
Sedgwick - 22.4%   Harvey - 15.2%   Saline - 1.9%
Ottawa - 5.2%   Dickinson - 8.2%   Butler - 28.9%
Riley - 14.1%   Geary - 32.2%   Wabaunsee - 1.7%
Jackson - 19.9%   Jefferson - 8.8%   Leavenworth - 22.6%
Douglas - 38.3%   Johnson - 57.2%   Shawnee - 7.9%
Crawford - 13.8%   Miami - 27%   Franklin - 10.1%

The other 84 will decline. Huge declines are predicted for Kiowa (-75.8%) and Greeley (-63.8%), but many others face projected 40%-50% decline rates (thankfully, Elk County hangs in there with only a 26% decline). Current trends project declines even for some mid-sized counties like Cowley (-20.9%), Sumner (-28.8%), Montgomery (-18.1%), and Reno [my current home] (-9%).

This information is at the heart of why directors of the Health Ministry Fund moved our access to healthcare work to focus on frontier and decidedly rural parts of Kansas. We are concerned that existing forms of service delivery and functions in these rural areas are approaching the breaking point. The closing of Mercy Hospital in Independence - in a mid-sized county - could be the first of several hospital closings in Kansas. Kansas needs to get serious about changing structures to enable continued provision of services - including healthcare - in these low and lower population areas.

In my next blog post, I will talk about three different approaches or attitudes that can be adopted to reformat rural structures: maintain, regionalize, or innovate. Don't expect a silver bullet.