© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

2010 Census: 1 In 4 U.S. Counties Are Dying

By Dave Lucas


Albany, NY – Census figures show that a near-record level of U.S. counties are "dying" _ that is, they are experiencing more deaths than births in their communities. Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas looks at how the numbers stack up regionally.

According to the latest census figures, roughly 760 of the nation's 3,142 counties - that's 1 in 4 - are fading away. West Virginia was the first state to experience a natural decrease statewide since 2000. Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont could follow soon.

Demographers say the problem is spreading. The mortgage crisis, record level unemployemnt and the resulting unsteady economy all factors in the crisis.

Dying counties in the U.S. were rare until the 1960s, when the baby boom ended. By 1973, as farming communities declined, roughly 515 counties - mostly in the Great Plains - reported natural decrease. The phenomenon then began to show up in industrial regions, such as upstate New York and California.

James Follain, senior fellow and economist at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University of Albany, said a new kind of declining city may be emerging in the wake of the housing bust - metropolitan areas that rapidly overbuilt earlier in the decade and then suffered massive foreclosures.

"It's going to be a very slow recovery," Follain said.

Not all U.S. areas are declining. Most places with the fastest growth since 2000 were able to retain or attract college graduates and young professionals who came for jobs and later started families. Metro areas with diversified economies such as Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Portland, Ore., all saw gains in college graduates; other places seeing gains or reduced losses in young adults, such as Washington, D.C., Boston and San Francisco, have burgeoning bio-tech industries.