The Pine Bluff metropolitan area saw the biggest decrease in population in the state from 2010-17, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the Pine Bluff metropolitan area, 1,633 more people left the city over the last year than moved to it, the bureau said. The number of births slightly outpaced the number of deaths in 2017, and slightly more migrants moved into the area than left, the bureau said.
According to statistics, Pine Bluff’s metro area was down from 100,093 residents in 2010 to 90,963 in 2017. The census statistics did not break down the numbers for the City of Pine Bluff, only the metropolitan area, which is made up of Jefferson, Cleveland and Lincoln counties.
Pine Bluff is listed as the principal city in the area. Other cities included are Altheimer, Grady, Gould, Humphrey, Kingsland, New Edinburg, Redfield, Rison, Sherrill, Star City, Wabbaseka and White Hall.
According to census figures, the City of Pine Bluff has a current population of 43,841, based on a 2016 estimate. That’s down from 49,083 residents who were counted in the official 2010 Census. The next official census count will be in 2020.
Caleb McMahon, the director of Economic Development for the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, compared economies to ocean cruise liners, in that they turn “really slowly. What we are doing right now as we get more and more and more companies to locate here, the hope is people move here for work.
“The problem in the past has been quality of life issues. We might get an industry here, but that doesn’t mean the labor is moving here. Sometimes they live in Little Rock or Sheridan and commute.”
Go Forward Pine Bluff officials have also addressed the population decline and are hopeful that the planned initiatives, such as a redeveloped, vibrant downtown, will help.
“The Go Forward plan is hoping to tackle that quality of life issue,” McMahon said. “Our job is to get industry here, get those high incomes and help bleed money back into the system. That helps with property taxes and helps feed money back into our economy.”
McMahon said the Alliance is currently working on a workforce development project, the details of which will be made available in the coming weeks. Around the state, the new census figures also show that many of Arkansas’ smaller counties shrank in population, while larger counties saw growth.
The U.S. Census Bureau publicly released its latest population estimates on Thursday.
Population experts said most metropolitan areas in Arkansas and nationwide have added to their populations since 2010, while about half of micropolitan areas shrank. Micropolitan areas have populations of at least 10,000 but fewer than 50,000.
The figures show 40 of the state’s 75 counties shrank from 2016 to 2017. But together those counties’ populations made up only about 806,000 people last year. The total population in the state’s 35 counties that showed growth was estimated at nearly 2.2 million people.
Population changes can include people migrating from rural to urban areas that have more amenities and economic opportunities.
Younger people specifically want to live in more urban areas because of a variety of industries, higher education institutions and diverse economies, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Migration is important for continued economic growth because younger people aren’t having as many children as older generations, said demographer Pam Willrodt with the Arkansas Economic Development Institute.
“It’s just expensive,” she said.
Experts are anticipating population changes that may alter political boundaries and the state’s priorities. Based on the past eight years of data, many legislative districts will be more urban than rural, according to Jebaraj.
“That means the policymakers need to look at the state through a different lens than they have in recent years,” said Willrodt.
The state’s total population last year was just over 3 million, an increase of 0.5 percent from the previous year, according to the data.