Jobs, criminals boost some Middle Georgia population counts

mstucka@macon.comMarch 14, 2013 

Middle Georgia’s population levels are largely stagnant, with about half the counties losing population since the 2010 Census, new estimates from the Census Bureau show.

One glaring exception is in Baldwin County, which got a surge of new residents who’d rather be somewhere else.

In figures released Thursday morning, the Census Bureau estimates that the county grew by about 1,400 people between July 2011 and July 2012. During that time, the new Riverbend Correctional Facility opened, adding 1,506 inmates to the county’s population.

Since the 2010 Census, Houston County is the only Middle Georgia county to grow faster than the state average of 2.4 percent. Houston grew an estimated 4.5 percent. In contrast, Twiggs County lost an estimated 6.4 percent.

Doug Bachtel, a University of Georgia demographer, said a single word explains population losses in Twiggs County and generally slow growth in Middle Georgia.

“To use an economic term, ‘There ain’t no jobs,’ ” Bachtel said Wednesday. “And that’s the importance of a diversified economy, so that one goes up (when) the other goes down, so you can weather the tough economic times.”

Twiggs County’s economy has been largely based on the kaolin industry, which was already in tough straits before the recession.

“Natural resources is the first and hardest hit and the last to recover. They’re in for a spell there,” Bachtel said.

The biggest exception is in Houston County, where the estimates show the county is being boosted almost equally by people moving in and babies being born faster than people are dying off. Bachtel said Houston County has more jobs and typically younger families associated with Robins Air Force Base who’d be more likely to have children.

The latest estimates say the county added 1,905 people between July 2011 and July 2012. That put Houston County among the Top 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Bibb County’s record was more mixed. Overall, the county added an estimated 375 people between July 2011 and July 2012, with about 710 more births than deaths. However, the difference of 335 people was people who left Bibb County.

The Census Bureau estimates suggest that, since the April 2010 Census, counties losing population included Bleckley, Crawford, Jones, Laurens, Peach and Twiggs counties, with Twiggs and Bleckley losing more than 1 percent. Counties gaining population included Baldwin, Bibb, Houston, Monroe and Wilkinson, with Baldwin and Houston gaining more than 1 percent.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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