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Monday, November 28, 2016

People and Places

At Vox Tim Lee has a useful, but incomplete, interview with Adam Ozimek, about migration from "dying" small towns to elsewhere.  I encourage you to read it, because it does make some useful points.  But it misses some other points that need to be emphasized.

When I was in graduate school (in economics) in West Virginia (studying, among other things, regional economics), the issue of the decline of small towns was a live topic for us.  It remains, for me, a topic of interest now that I am living (in retirement) in Indiana. 

Ozimek and Lee both begin with the very standard argument that people in economically declining towns (or regions) might be better off to move, and there is indeed a lot of outmigration--much of the population loss these places might experience is motivated precisely by the efforts people make to recover from the losses (of jobs, especially) in those declining places.  But the migration literature has also emphasized that migration is both costly and risky.  Those who move incur the costs of moving and of resettlement.  But they also incur social costs--the disruption of family and community ties, for example.  And migration is risky--migrants may not succeed in the places to which they move (indeed, back-migration is quite common).  All this is well known, and economists concerned with regional change have worried a lot about both the costs and the risks; it's not like these factors have been ignored.

Here, though, what I want to do is look at the declining small-to-medium sized cities and towns in Indiana.

In Indiana, there were, according to the 2010 Census, 64 cities or towns with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.  Of these, 24 more than doubled their populations between 1960 and 2010 (while the state population increased by about 40%.  Of these 24 cities and towns, 9 were within the Indianapolis metropolitan area and 8 were in northwest Indiana.  The other 7 were scattered around the state.  The "gaining" places in central Indiana grew by about 170,000 people; in northwest Indiana, they grew by about 134,000.  Overall, these 24 cities and towns gained about 442,000 in population between 1960 and 2010, an increase of about 125%.

Conversely, there were 11 cities and towns that lost population over the same time period.  Two of those--Michigan City and East Chicago--lost about 33,000 residents.  (But two large cities in northwest Indiana--Gary and Hammond--lost 129,000, about 45% of their combined 1960 populations.)  Overall, the declining cities and towns lost nearly 75,000 people between 1960 and 2010, a population loss of about 21%.

I want to look at the cities and towns that lost population, to see what, if anything we can learn from them.  I'll take that up in a subsequent post.


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