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Kentucky Grows More Urban

By Mark Green

Kentucky’s population grew 7.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, becoming older and more urban in the process – related trends likely in the long-term to improve state infrastructure funding for urban areas and benefit businesses that serve the aging.

Suburban counties near Louisville and Lexington along with Bowling Green’s Warren County and Northern Kentucky’s Boone County had the biggest gains. But 36 eastern, western and south-central counties lost population.

Housing trends find vacancy levels up. The state average is nearly 10 percent. Only the highest-growth counties are under double-digits. In several rural counties, housing vacancy rates top 20 percent.

It is the product of a many-decades-long trend. In Kentucky, the United States and around the world, people are moving to, or near, cities. On the farm, more children traditionally mean more working hands, more production and higher income. In the city, and especially in today’s two-working-parent families, children mean more expense for childcare and less disposable income. It’s an economic imperative that is driving birthrates down in the developed world.

With birthrates dropping, commonwealth population growth is a result primarily of people living longer plus some immigration – especially Hispanic minorities with higher birthrates – according to Ron Crouch, director of Research and Statistics with the Office of Employment and Training in the state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

In a graying world, however, Louisville’s strategy to capitalize on its growing aging-care business cluster looks ever smarter and should bode well for ongoing economic development in the region. City officials already credibly tout Louisville as a global leader in aging care with efforts to spin off and create more services and companies in that sector just getting under way.

Kentucky’s population figures reflect what demographer and sociologist Crouch describes as a broad population shift of historic proportions, one with the potential to rewrite many rules of business, economics and even capitalism.
“Demographics is destiny,” Crouch declares.

The former longtime head of the Kentucky Data Center at the University of Louisville is more than a number cruncher. He has UofL bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a Bellarmine University MBA; Crouch is invited dozens of times a year to speak on demographic and social trends across the nation.

He sees the world going through a historic demographic shift that by 2050 will produce a leveling off of the steep population gains that began in the mid-1700s with the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. Around the world, fecundity remains high only across equatorial Africa and through the Middle East.

Birthrates in all of the developed world are below the 2.1 children per woman sustenance rate required to maintain populations. However, as longevity increases, population segments in the older age groups are expanding, significantly – and the large post-WWII “baby boom” cohort born from 1946 to 1964 has not joined those senior ranks yet. Despite significant longevity gains, birthrates are so low that many countries’ overall resident counts are decreasing.
Among rich nations, only the United States, Canada and Australia continue to experience population growth, Crouch said, and it is because they have permissive immigration practices.

He said China will enter an era of economic difficulty and social challenge beginning in about 10 years because of its “one-child policy,” enacted a generation ago. It faces what demographers call the “4-2-1 problem.” With no social safety net such as the U.S. Social Security and Medicare system, one active Chinese worker will find him or herself trying to provide for two parents and four grandparents.

Retiring too soon
Low birthrates and aging populaces lead eventually to economic difficulty, Crouch warns. The result will be workforce supply shortages and aging-support ratios too small to provide and care for larger elderly populations.
It’s a situation that has never existed before in the world.

“We need to rethink how we look at life,” Crouch said. “We need to rethink how we think about when people get old.”

Some people, especially certain public employees, are entering retirement much too early – when they still have half their life expectancy ahead of them. So our economy can meet its future workforce size and skills needs, Crouch said, it would be a much wiser for Americans to adopt an expectation of lifelong learning and plan to begin a gradual tapering off their work life at age 65 rather than retire.

The state and the nation are entering an age when it can afford no throwaway members of society.

Meanwhile, regarding housing issues, demographic trends tend against any return to the construction boom times of the past decade, Crouch said.
The housing bubble, which attracted financial speculation and produced an oversupply of stock, especially at the high end, coincided with the most active home buying years of the baby boom generation.

The “McMansion” homebuilding trend of the past decade oversupplied the market with large houses whose bedrooms on are upper floors, which won’t suit an aging population. Older residents prefer compact homes with all the rooms they are going to use on one level.

An aging population will affect restaurant operation also, according to Crouch. He believes trends favor sit-down restaurants over drive-through fast-food outlets.

Education = income = homebuyers
The educated and comparatively wealthy baby boom cohort is now age 45 to 65 and mostly past its prime home buying years, Crouch said. Immigrant and minority population groups are growing, but – with the exception of Asians – because of lower educational attainment have lower incomes and less ability to buy homes, he said.

The commonwealth’s high school graduation rate is above the national average. The two states with the largest immigrant populations, California and Texas, have the worst high school graduation rates in the nation. Policies that improve education levels – creating job skills and increasing earning power – for minorities and immigrants are vital to future economic prospects for Kentucky and the United States, according to Crouch.

Declines in the average number of residents per household – a trend that increases housing demand even for steady populations – have stabilized after several decades. More young adults are staying in or returning to their parents’ households because they are un- or underemployed and unable to afford homes. Increased employment rates, however, would prompt demand among young adults who would establish their own households.

Kentucky’s housing vacancy rates doubled over the past decade and stood at 10.8 percent when last year’s census took place, said Michael Price, interim director of the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville. The shift to urban areas made for better occupancy rates there compared to Kentucky’s overall rate. Fayette and Jefferson both have vacancy rates of 9 percent.

Suburban counties fared well, with Bullitt’s housing vacancy at 5.6 percent, Oldham at 6.1 percent and Jessamine 8.8 percent. Daviess County/Owensboro was at 6.8 percent. However, the majority of Kentucky counties are rural, and typically at least one in nine residences is unoccupied, the census found. Wayne County housing was 21 percent vacant. In Trigg and Russell, one in four houses sits empty.

Price attributes population movement chiefly to opportunity: jobs and economic growth.

Hispanics drive most growth
The United States grew 9.7 percent in the decade, its lowest growth rate since the decade of the Great Depression. The South grew most, 14.3 percent, and the West followed with 13.8 percent. The Northeast grew least at an anemic 3.2 percent and the Midwest only marginally better at 3.9 percent.

Internal migration within the United States had definite impact, but the 2010 Census found Hispanic immigration and growth of existing Hispanic communities were prime population growth engines around the nation, accounting for more than half of all increases.

In Kentucky, Hispanic numbers increased sharply the past decade – by more than 121 percent. Hispanics accounted for more than a third of the state’s population growth but still constitute only 3.1 percent of all residents, according to the 2010 Census.

“We’re not a diverse population,” said Price.

Kentucky’s 2010 population of 4,339,367 was 87.8 percent white, 7.8 percent black, 3.1 percent Hispanic and 1.1 percent Asian. Mixed-race, Native American and “other” completed the demographic.

Nationally, the U.S. population distribution (and decade growth rate) included 72.4 percent white (up 5.7 percent), 16.3 percent Hispanic (up 43 percent), 12.6 percent black (up 12.3 percent), 4.8 percent Asian (up 43.8 percent), 2.9 percent mixed race (up 32 percent). Overlap among Hispanic, black and mixed-race Americans yield a total higher than 100 percent.

Kentucky’s black population grew 13.4 percent while making a very distinct shift to more urban areas. In fact, 63 counties – predominantly rural – lost black residents, including Christian County/Hopkinsville/Fort Campbell, whose black community remains third largest in the state but decreased 8.6 percent. Jefferson County/Louisville, which has by far the largest black population, increased more than 17 percent and Fayette County/Lexington by more than 21 percent.

Political benefits accrue to cities
The federal government conducts the census for purposes of apportioning political representation in Congress. States and communities also reapportion after censuses. Looking at trends across the entire state population, Price said the result could be an eventual shift in infrastructure funding formulas that traditionally have been more favorable to rural areas than urban and suburban Kentucky.

Infrastructure within a metropolitan area or region, especially transportation, knits its residents together more strongly and increases community identify, he said. Stronger community identity is an asset in economic development and business recruitment.

Kentucky grew by 297,598 persons from 4,041,769 in the 2000 Census to 4,339,367 last  year. As the state grew, though, many rural counties lost population, according to official numbers released last month.

Kentucky was under the 9.7 percent overall rate of population increase for the entire United States, but will maintain its six U.S. House seats. States in the Northeast and Midwest lost seats to states in the South and West.

Data for Kentucky show the five most populous incorporated places and their 2010 Census counts are Louisville/Jefferson County, 741,096; Lexington/Fayette, 295,803; Bowling Green, 58,067; Owensboro, 57,265; and Covington, 40,640.

Having consolidated with Jefferson County since the 2000 Census, Louisville grew by 189.2 percent in the decade. Lexington-Fayette grew by 13.5 percent, Bowling Green grew by 17.8 percent, Owensboro grew by 5.9 percent, and Covington decreased by 6.3 percent.

The largest county is Jefferson, with a population of 741,096. Its population grew 6.8 percent since 2000. The other counties in the top five include Fayette, with a population of 295,803 (increase of 13.5 percent); Kenton, 159,720 (increase of 5.5 percent); Boone, 118,811 (increase of 38.2 percent); and Warren, 113,792 (increase of 23.0 percent).

(To access county by county data on detailed racial composition and housing occupancy, go to ksdc.louisville.edu/1census.htm.)