2010 Census: Near-record level of US counties dying | SierraSun.com

2010 Census: Near-record level of US counties dying

The Associated Press and Sun News Service Reports

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. and#8212; Eight of California’s 58 counties saw more residents die than be born in 2009 and#8212; and Nevada County is among those eight.

But it’s not a trend contained only to those California counties. According to recently released census information, one-fourth of all U.S. counties are experiencing more deaths than births in their communities, a phenomenon demographers call and#8220;natural decreaseand#8221; as counties have been hit by aging populations and a poor economy.

In all, roughly 760 of the nation’s 3,142 counties are fading away, stretching from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San Francisco to the rural areas of east Texas and the Great Plains. Once-booming housing areas, such as retirement communities in Florida, have not been immune.

Nevada County’s natural decrease was a net loss of 58 residents in 2009, with 977 deaths against 919 births.

Seven other counties also saw a natural decrease: Amador (and#8211; 96), Calaveras (and#8211; 4), Mariposa (and#8211; 20), Modoc (and#8211; 8), Plumas (and#8211; 35), Trinity (and#8211; 50) and Tuolumne (and#8211; 102). All eight of the counties experiencing more deaths than births are in Northern California and, aside from Trinity County, they are all located in the eastern part of the state.

But Nevada County, thanks to people moving into the area, saw its actual population increase by 454 residents. Nine other counties, including four of the counties and#8212; Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne and#8212; that saw a natural decrease in 2009, actually decreased in total population.

and#8220;I do believe that jobs is one of the big issues,and#8221; said Nevada County District 2 Supervisor Ed Scofield, the former executive director of the Nevada County Fair. and#8220;I watched attendance at the (Nevada County) fair decline over 10 years. At that time the Superintendent of Schools came to me and said his decline in attendance mirrored mine.

and#8220;You’re losing your young families.and#8221;

Years in the making, the problem is spreading across the country amid a prolonged job slump and a push by Republicans in Congress to downsize government and federal spending.

and#8220;You’re the anchors of our Main Streets,and#8221; President Barack Obama told small business leaders in Cleveland on Tuesday. and#8220;We want your stories and#8212; your successes, your failures, what barriers you’re seeing out there to expand. How can America help you succeed so that you can help America succeed?and#8221;

West Virginia was the first to experience natural decrease statewide over the last decade, with Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont close to following suit, according to the latest census figures. As a nation, the U.S. population grew by just 9.7 percent since 2000, the lowest decennial rate since the Great Depression.

and#8220;Natural decrease is an important but not widely appreciated demographic phenomenon that is reshaping our communities in both rural and urban cores of large metro areas,and#8221; said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute who analyzed the census numbers.

Johnson said common threads among the dying counties are older whites who are no longer having children, and an exodus of young adults who find little promise in the region and seek jobs elsewhere.

The places also have fewer Hispanic immigrants, who on average are younger and tend to have more children than other groups.

and#8220;The downturn in the U.S. economy is only exacerbating the problem,and#8221; said Johnson, whose research paper is being published next month in the journal Rural Sociology. and#8220;In some cases, the only thing that can pull an area out is an influx of young Hispanic immigrants or new economic development.and#8221;

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 and#8212; mostly in the Great Plains and#8212; reported natural decrease. The phenomenon then began to show up in industrial regions, such as upstate New York and California.

Natural decrease peaked in 2002 at a record 985, or one in three counties, before increasing births and an influx of Hispanic immigration helped add to county populations during the housing boom.

Following the recent recession, birth rates have dropped to the lowest in a century. Preliminary census numbers for 2007-09 now show that the number of dying counties is back on the upswing.

Recent additions include Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties.

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 and#8212; metropolitan areas that rapidly overbuilt earlier in the decade and then suffered massive foreclosures.

He cited as examples Las Vegas, Miami, parts of Arizona, and Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Riverside in California.

Like traditional ghost towns, Follain says, portions of these areas could spiral down from persistent loss of jobs and population and lose their reason for being.

Follain also pointed to a tighter fiscal environment in Washington that will limit help to troubled areas.

The Obama administration announced this month it would shrink the government’s role in the mortgage system to reduce taxpayer exposure to risk. House Republicans also are pushing federal spending cuts of more than $61 billion, even if it means reducing jobs.

and#8220;It’s going to be a very slow recovery,and#8221; Follain said.