While parts of the state have grown over the past six years, much of North Carolina is in decline, according to data from the UNC Carolina Population Center.
Of the state’s 553 municipalities, 225 – or about 41% – saw their populations decline in 2010-16. Another 192 towns and villages grew less than 6.4% during this period.
Three in four North Carolina municipalities have either lost population or grown more slowly than the state since 2010. And the northeastern part of the state has been hit the hardest.
The 10 most affected cities in 2010-2016 are in Bertie, Northampton and Washington counties.
Jacksonville saw the largest decline in the number of people, from 70,145 in 2010 to 67,784 in 2016, a growth rate of -3.4% and a loss of more than 2,300 people, according to the US census.
Jacksonville is followed by Rocky Mount, Kinston, Elizabeth City, Roanoke Rapids, Havelock, Laurinburg, Reidsville, Rockingham and Tarboro.
Lewiston Woodville in Bertie County saw the biggest drop in population percentage, from 549 in 2010 to 494 in 2016 – a 10 percent drop – followed by Conway, Garysburg, Woodland, Gaston, Aulander, Seaboard , Roper, Askewville and Kelford, according to the US census.
Projections for Bertie, Northampton, Jones and Washington counties show that further population decline is imminent. According to US Census data on the components of change from 2010 to 2016, each of these counties showed negative natural growth or decrease – where deaths outnumber births – and showed people leaving counties. This trend has occurred every year since the last decennial census.
The troubles for these counties do not end there. The population decline in these areas will only increase, according to the census, as each contains a large elderly population. About 23 percent of Northampton County are 65 or older, followed by 22 percent in Washington County, 20 percent in Jones County and 19 percent in Bertie County.
By comparison, only 16 percent of the overall population in North Carolina is 65 or older.
It’s hard to say who is leaving these counties, depending on the population center, but historical trends for these counties show that most of the people leaving are young people of working age who may seek better economic opportunities. And this trend will only accelerate the decline in these areas, as people of reproductive age move away and choose not to start families in these areas.
To view the full data report, go to demography.cpc.unc.edu/2017/07/05/examining-decline-in-north-carolinas-municipalities.