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story.lead_photo.caption Population change in Arkansas, 2010-18

Some Arkansas cities and towns have had some of the biggest population declines in the nation, but few states have seen the growth many of Arkansas' other cities and towns have experienced, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released today.

Since 2010, 73 of Arkansas' cities and towns have shrunk at least 10%, and 92 have placed in the bottom 1,000 of U.S. cities and towns -- out of more than 22,000 -- for population declines.

In that same time frame, Arkansas also has been above average across the U.S. in population growth and housing growth. Arkansas had more cities and towns in the top 1,000 for population increases -- 36 -- than all but eight states.

Arkansas is a starker-than-normal example of what demographers say is a national trend: Rural areas are contracting, while urban areas are expanding. Economists say that's consistent with job growth patterns; companies are hiring more often in cities.

In Arkansas, the change is benefiting typically wealthier and mostly white areas and hurting typically poorer and majority black parts of the Delta, as well as poorer parts of the state's south and west.

What makes the gap between the haves and have-nots starker in Arkansas may be in part a matter of people migrating within the state, said David Sorto, a research associate at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's Center for Business and Economic Research.

"It's a tale of two Arkansases," he said.

Alison Wright, associate research/extension specialist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, suggested that the small size of Arkansas' towns may have contributed to their higher percentage declines.

Overall, the state's population trend is "distinct areas where the population is growing but the majority of the state is losing population," Wright said.

That extrapolation from today's data release is consistent with what she expected from the county population estimates released last month.

"The fact that almost two-thirds of our counties have lost population since 2010 would appear to explain that the cities in those counties are also losing population," Wright said.

Finding a town in the Delta that bucks the trend of population decline -- one that isn't a suburb or a bedroom community of Jonesboro -- is difficult.

With an estimated 2018 population of 248, Gilmore is larger than it was in the 2010 census count, when it was 188 people, although census estimates from the same year show a population of 265. By either measure, the town is smaller than it was in previous decades and the city by new Interstate 555 lies just north of several towns that are losing population.

Officials with the town did not return a voice mail or an email Wednesday.

Officials with the Delta Regional Authority could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Pine Bluff and Little Rock are exceptions to the trend of large cities that are seeing growth. Pine Bluff's population dropped by thousands during the past decade, from 49,083 counted in 2010 to 42,271 estimated in 2018.

Little Rock's decline is much smaller, dropping in the past two census estimates by only 537 people since 2016. The city -- still more than double the size of the state's second-biggest city (Fort Smith, at 87,845) -- is estimated at 197,881 people. That's still higher than in 2010, when the Census Bureau counted 193,524 people.

In April, when Pulaski County population estimates showed the county's growth was dependent on births because of a net loss in migration, a spokesman for Little Rock said Mayor Frank Scott Jr. plans to push policies, economic development and public-safety measures to attract millennials and others to the city.

"Jobs growth and other economic indicators have been stagnant for sometime in Little Rock, and that's why voters elected Mayor Scott, to grow our economy and make Little Rock a place people want to work, live and play," spokesman Stephanie Jackson said in an email in April. "Public Safety and jobs growth are two of his top priorities to accomplish that goal."

Still, Little Rock and other metropolitan areas in the states have unemployment levels below the national average, Sorto said.

That's provided an opportunity for Arkansans to find jobs and remain in the state, even if they can't stay in their original, smaller towns.

The places that are growing have economic opportunities surrounding major institutions, including institutions that can supply labor, such as universities, Sorto said. He noted the major research universities in the faster-growing metropolitan areas -- the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas State University at Jonesboro and colleges and universities in central Arkansas.

Cities that have major universities, state government operations, military bases, ports or "quality infrastructure" or are within close proximity to major economic areas can thrive, he said.

Census data released today also include housing unit estimates, which can be an indicator of population and economic growth.

Since 2010, the number of housing units in Arkansas has grown by 4.7%, from 1,316,299 to 1,380,504. It grew by 0.8% from 2017 to 2018, from 1,370,000 housing units. Nationally, housing units have grown by 4.9% since 2010 and by 0.9% since 2017.

While Arkansas is just below the national averages, which are estimates, it's in the middle of the pack among states in housing growth since 2010, 25th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That's higher than neighboring states Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi.

A Section on 05/23/2019

Print Headline: Rural-urban shift continuing, latest census data show


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Archived Comments

    May 23, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Yes, HAH...Are you sasying?


    ARE YOU?!?

  • GeneralMac
    May 23, 2019 at 10:38 a.m.

    and the limp wrist spelling cop arrives.

    Pink purse locked and loaded ? ( brick inserted )

  • RBear
    May 23, 2019 at 10:48 a.m.

    Once again, WJAM completely misses context on an issue. Just to catch you up on my views on the EC, I would like to see it change to be one person-one vote, but reality will not allow that to happen. However, I have advocated for proportional within the states to allow for a more representative vote in the EC. That's why I said, "or at least the way states allocate EC votes should change." Let's see how good his constitutional knowledge is on that subject.

    May 23, 2019 at 10:59 a.m.

    RBEAR the arrogant -- some states use a winner-take-all to select EC delegates and some proportion the take based on the vote. That is up to the state.
    The states select the president - not the voters. If you want a one-person-one-vote - which the writers of the Constitution knew would favor population centers and leave smaller areas in the cold -- then the vote of an Arkansan, although one vote, really doesn't count against the blue coasts (in today's climate).
    Something rarely considered when the blues argue for dumping the EC - saying that Hillary got more votes - is that if the election had been based on straight popular vote the campaign strategy would have been very different. It would not have been the vote numbers seen in 2016. The 'she got more votes' is a phony argument.

  • hurricane46
    May 23, 2019 at 11:02 a.m.

    NWA is booming, so is Jonesboro, while Fort Smith continues their slow decline. Pretty soon they won't be the second biggest city in Arkansas.

  • Waitjustaminute
    May 23, 2019 at 11:02 a.m.

    HAH, why not one person one vote? Because we're not a democracy; we're a republic. It was set up that way from the beginning. Mac's 9:49 post is right. We're not a homogeneous nation, we're a collection of 50 states. If the EC forces Presidential candidates to pay attention to all the states instead of just the major population centers, so be it.

  • Waitjustaminute
    May 23, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.

    RBear, if I missed your context, it's because you didn't include enough of it in your original post. Thanks for the 10:48 clarification. How would your proportional voting work; by congressional district, like a couple of states do now, or by percentage of total vote?

  • hah406
    May 23, 2019 at 12:15 p.m.

    I was sasying! Yes I was. In all seriousness though, there could be a better way to do it. The outsized effect that a small state like Iowa can have versus a state like Illinois means that the voters in Chicago are disenfranchised specifically in a presidential election. The House is directly proportional to the population. The Senate is made up of two from each state, ensuring that states have equal representation there. Maybe a hybrid system where some of the EC votes go to the POTUS winner in each state, and the rest go to the popular vote winner? Anyone know if that has ever been modeled / studied?

  • RBear
    May 23, 2019 at 12:16 p.m.

    WJAM yes, that's how the very few states that do have proportional voting do it. You would still allocate the votes allotted for senators with winner-take-all, but it's really easy to tally votes by CD for the proportional allotment. It's not a perfect solution, but it gets closer.
    I've made these points on another article, I think a column by Brummett, but it's worth repeating here again since the context is appropriate. If you follow population trends where urban centers are growing and rural areas are declining, winner-take-all will soon shoot Republicans in the foot when a major state like TX or FL or GA flips. The growth in Texas has been in two demographic areas - urban centers and the RGV.
    In the last presidential election, both those areas voted Democrat and will continue to for the unforeseeable future. What should be worrying Republicans is not just the urban centers, but the areas around them. In the last election, Collin, Denton, and Fort Bend counties were tighter than they've ever been before. TX will probably still vote Republican in 2020, but after that all bets are off based on the growth by urban areas in the latest Census Bureau report. Once TX flips, Republicans can forget the WH for decades. There are not enough EC votes in smaller states to counter the TX flip if it remains winner-take-all.
    To a few other points, you also said that the nation is a republic, not a democracy. That ONLY applies to governing, not electing. That is the only efficient way to govern which is why we have it. However, some aspects of the republic have fallen such as the way senators are elected. With 17A, the senators were chosen by the people and not the legislatures any more.
    The only thing saving the EC from one person, one vote is the fact that the method is prescribed in the Constitution. But that was also true with senators before 17A. However, I don't think 3/4 of the states will ratify a change to the EC system.
    MBAIV says, "then the vote of an Arkansan, although one vote, really doesn't count against the blue coasts (in today's climate)" when talking about one person, one vote. That makes no sense whatsover as one person, one vote gives ALL voters parity. If you go back to the discourse on the EC in Federalist 68, you find more about what the founders were thinking. We have strayed so far from those principals that it is definitely worth revisiting.

  • Illinoisroy
    May 23, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    "...liberal or progressive dominance is destiny." Yep that is how we have gotten this far, not just in USA but evolution of civilization.