The U.S. Census Bureau last week released its 2009 population estimates for communities across the nation. While most rejoice at population gains, one expert said it’s not always a good thing.
“Sometimes your town is growing, but not for the right reasons,” said Clifford Holley, interim director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Population Studies.
“As a demographer, the ultimate goal is zero population growth. The more people you have, the more problems you have,” Holley said.
Then he added half-jokingly: “You’d like to see population growth, but population growth is the leading cause of overpopulation.”
In the nearly three dozen Northeast Mississippi towns and cities with more than 1,000 residents, 17 increased their populations while the others fell, according to the latest figures.
One – Nettleton – remained steady.
Tupelo, the largest city in the region, grew by 0.9 percent, with 326 new people. With 36,336 residents, it remained Mississippi’s seventh most populous city.
Mississippi itself grew by 0.4 percent, gaining nearly 11,800 new residents.
The census estimates are based on statistical information like birth and death records, tax information and other data. It’s not the once-a-decade population count.
Those figures, which are considered far more accurate, are expected out later this year.
Although population growth occurs for many reasons, it’s typically a compliment for a city to gain new residents, said Phil Pepper, state economist and assistant commissioner for planning and research at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
“It reflects opportunity,” Pepper said. “You look at the quality of the school districts and the population shifts, and they almost match. People go where there are good school districts.”
People also go where the good jobs are. And Mississippi typically has been a feeder state for other regions in the country, Holley said.
That Mississippi now is gaining residents doesn’t necessarily reflect its own economic prosperity, but could mean a decline thereof elsewhere.
“One of the things we’ve noticed throughout the years is if the national economy is doing well, Mississippi tends to lose population. If job prospects are available, Mississippi people will go look for them,” Holley explained.
“If the national economy is not doing well, people tend to stay where they are. And if the economic situation doesn’t pick up, Mississippi’s population ought to grow real well.”
Both Holley and Pepper expect the state’s numbers to do just that, though Holley worries about potential problems from population growth without job opportunities.
Toyota will bring some of those much-needed jobs with its new auto plant near Blue Springs; it will hire 2,000 people with an another 2,000 at its suppliers plants. But even Pepper doubted it’ll be a game-changer.
“You still lost those furniture jobs,” he said. Toyota won’t backfill all the other lost jobs.”
Pepper said Northeast Mississippi still will fare better than most because it has fine educational systems and progressive political and business leaders.
“In the state, it will grow where there are good schools and where it’s already been growing,” Pepper said. “Northeast Mississippi is in a good position.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or email@example.com.
See chart of population in today's NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.