Report: People are moving away from Middle Georgia

mstucka@macon.comMarch 27, 2014 

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  • Interactive Map: Population change across Georgia

New population estimates suggest Middle Georgia residents are leaving the region as a whole. The number of newcomers to Houston County has dramatically slowed, while more than 2,100 people moved out of Bibb County in a single year, U.S. Census population estimates released Thursday suggest.

These estimates show most Middle Georgia counties lost population between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest year for which data is available, while the area overall lost nearly 1,000 people.

The estimates suggest that in most counties, births still surpassed deaths, leading to natural population growth. But most counties had hundreds of people move away, leading to an overall population loss.

Greg George, director of Middle Georgia State College’s Center for Economic Analysis, said the estimates themselves, if accurate, don’t identify the economic impact on the area. The area would be hurt more by losing working-age families than retirees who just wanted to move closer to the beach, he said. But population loss alone is a problem.

“It’s discouraging to have a shrinking population,” he said. “The details will determine whether it’s just a little bad or a lot bad.”

Middle Georgia’s unemployment rate has been worse than the national average, George said.

Though Bibb County had more births than deaths, it still lost 1,441 people in a single year, about 0.92 percent of its population. That was driven by an estimated 2,115 more people moving out of the county than moving in. The latest population is 154,721 people.

Houston County’s population grew through July 2013 to reach 147,658 people, the estimates suggest. Houston County had nearly 1,000 more births than deaths in that year. But migration added just 551 people, for a migration rate of about one-fifth of what the county experienced a couple of years earlier.

Elaine Lee, senior vice president of residential sales for Fickling & Co. in Warner Robins, said the numbers don’t jibe with what she’s seen. She said her office has seen steady demand for more housing in recent years.

Central Georgia Multiple Listing Service figures show 1,718 Houston County home sales in 2013, an increase from 1,513 in 2012 and 1,422 in 2011.

For the population estimates released Thursday, The Telegraph focused on 11 counties: Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Crawford, Houston, Jones, Laurens, Monroe, Peach, Twiggs and Wilkinson.

Of that latest year reported, in those counties, only Houston (1.09 percent) and Monroe (0.92 percent) showed population growth in the estimates. Counties losing population in the estimates ranged from Laurens County -- down just 17 people from the year before, or 0.04 percent -- to Peach County’s loss of 557 people, or 2.02 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates suggest most counties either had near-similar numbers of births and deaths or more births than deaths.

The difference came in migration, or how many people moved in and how many people moved out. Of the 11 counties, only Houston, Monroe and Twiggs counties reported they’d taken in more people than they’d lost.

The census estimates show that in the latest year, Georgia grew about 0.77 percent, driven by about 59,000 more births than deaths and about 16,000 new residents.

The Telegraph found that, from those 11 Middle Georgia counties, the total population declined by about 1,000 people. There were about 2,000 more births than deaths, but roughly 3,000 people moved away without being replaced. The latest population estimate for the area was about 522,000 people.

Telegraph archives were used in this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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