By Morton Marcus
The U.S. Bureau of the Census has released its 2016 population estimates for Indiana counties. I sat down with Languid Longworth, a local legend in Logansport, to review the new numbers.
“Fundamentally, I’m most pleased with the data,” Lang told me. “Cass County is like much of Indiana: avoiding the disruption of population growth.”
“Right,” I said. “In all, Cass County lost over 1,000 residents since 2010. It was ninth among the 58 population-losing counties in the state.”
“Now, now,” he said. “Let’s not talk about losing. I figure that means at least 500 cars not on our roads. Lines are shorter at the grocery stores and most places. Schools have fewer students which means each one can get more attention. You’ve got to think about the blessings that come with slow contraction.”
“That’s a new argument to me,” I said.
“Look,” Lang insisted, “we don’t have to face the problems of Hamilton County, where they’ve had to build houses, stores, new streets and schools for 40,000 more people in this decade. In contrast, Cass’ population has eased by about four persons every 10 days.”
“Sure,” I said, “but look at how it happened. Just last year, over 300 more people left Cass County for someplace else in the U.S. than came here to live. If it were not for over 100 people coming from outside the U.S. to Cass County, plus the happy fact that you had more births than deaths, your population loss would have been still greater.”
“You make it sound like folks are rejecting life in Cass County,” he said. “Not so. Youngsters go to college or somewhere else for a job, while the older folks who have the money head out for Florida or Arizona. I say, ‘God bless ‘em, and God speed.’”
“Indiana,” I replied, “had 81,000 more people leaving than came to live here so far in this decade. Our state has slipped from the 15th most populous to 17th in just six years, falling behind Tennessee and Arizona.
On top of that, 85 percent of the population growth of Indiana was concentrated in just five counties (Hamilton, Marion, Tippecanoe, Hendricks and Allen).”
“Don’t you see,” Lang protested, “this is a free country. People who want to crowd together with other people can do so, and those of us who want elbow room can enjoy that as well.”
“Yes, it’s a free country,” I agreed, “but those areas losing population are getting poorer with a declining quality of life. The growing areas are getting wealthier with an improving quality of life.”
Lang raised his voice, “That’s your opinion. Your idea of a quality life is different from mine.”
“Then why do children and people with money leave these hospice counties?” I demanded. “Why is drug use so high in these ‘desirable’ places?”
We glared at each other for a few moments and then got down to talking basketball.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to email@example.com.