Optimism is difficult, but necessary

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I’ve had a difficult time in recent weeks balancing Census sticker shock with my general belief that optimism is always best.

On one hand the old cliché is true — If you aren’t growing, you are dying.

On the other hand, I’m not sure any of us living in Natchez today are capable of ruining what nearly three centuries have built. We’d be egotistical to think we were.

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Adams County has lost 4,000 residents in 10 years, but I have to keep reminding myself we didn’t lose them all yesterday.

Just because the U.S. Census bureau recently has released new numbers doesn’t mean the drop just occurred. It’s been a gradual, slow process for years.

Based on U.S. Census bureau estimates calculated each year in which a census is not taken, the biggest annual population drop came from 2003 to 2004 — 880 people are estimated to have left town.

Prior to that, from 2000 to 2001, 592 people left the county. From 2001 to 2002 it was 386 and from 2002 to 2003 it was 445.

But after the mass exodus of 2003, only 296 folks left from 2004 to 2005. Then, with help from Katrina, the county’s population grew by 369 from 2005 to 2006.

Despite our long-standing belief that many Katrina evacuees stayed, the population from 2006 to 2007 dropped 492 people. Some evacuees may have stayed, but other folks left.

For the next four years 436 people, 460 and 425 people left town.

So since Katrina, we’ve lost approximately the same number of people each year.

It’s not good and has been leading to my census mood swings.

Yet, February is an exciting time at our newspaper. It’s the month in which our annual Profile edition is published.

The special section contains dozens of feature stories about great people, places and things in the Miss-Lou. Some stories are sad and may have negative moments, but they always include an uplifting undercurrent.

We work on the section for months, all anticipating the day on which we share the stories with the community.

It’s an optimistic time.

The release of Census numbers right in the middle of Profile time has been a bit of a paradox for us.

Being the cynics that newspaper people often are, it didn’t take long for someone to jokingly put a negative spin on this year’s Profile theme — Community of One.

“We could do a story on how long it will be before we literally become a community of one,” someone said.

They weren’t serious, but tracking census data does make you wonder, if that is, you only look at recent decades.

Taking a look at a tracker of Adams County census data all the way back to 1900 tells a different tale — one that us optimists can grab onto.

From decade to decade Natchez has gained up to 5,474 people in one 10-year period and lost as many as 4,846 people in a decade.

Yet, our population today is almost exactly what it was in 1900.

Life is cyclical, they say, and maybe we are in a down cycle.

Historical census data gives us a good goal — 1980 and a population of 38,035 was the heyday here.

So as I await stacks and stacks of Profile 2011 copies hot off the presses, I’ll have to remind myself that optimism is always the best route, for without hope we have nothing.

As you’ll see Sunday when Profile arrives at your doorstep — or in a newsstand near you — our community has plenty of great things going for it.

In addition to a giant slap in the face wake-up call from Mr. U.S. Census, we have great residents, great surroundings and a bright future through the eyes of our children.

I’m not advocating ignoring census data or even reviewing it with rose-colored glasses — what we’ve done in the last 10 years hasn’t worked — but I do hope tomorrow’s leaders will look at today with hope in their hearts.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.