Population decline affects us all

Published 12:27 am Sunday, October 15, 2017

Anyone who has lived in Natchez and Adams County for any length of time can quickly point to a myriad of problems facing the community, but what if our biggest problem was the community itself?

Would we collectively have the guts to work together to resolve the challenge or would we squabble or ignore it?

If we could only confront a single problem, which one should we tackle?

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Lately, a rash of crime might place locating and incarcerating the worst of our area’s criminals behind bars at the top of the community’s “must fix” list.

From random shootings to petty burglaries, our crime typically comes in predictable varieties.

Sadly, though, the violence seems to be getting worse. A couple of weeks ago, dozens of city residents reported sporadic gunfire from various parts of the city.

As it turns out, police believe a group was driving through neighborhoods randomly firing a high-powered rifle, likely an assault rifle, based on the caliber of shell casings found peppering the area.

Crime is a big problem, but it may not be the one of highest priority.

What about the public education system? The public school district’s performance testing has been problematic for years.

Year after the year, the school district faces more and more public scrutiny — and rightly so — as poor results compound with the years.

The district’s poor marks have caused headaches for economic developers trying to lure new business and industry the area.

And, what’s worse, if the cause of the low test scores is the adults responsible for the district, then generations of students are coming through the school system and not living up to their full potential.

As bad as the district’s results are, it may not be the highest priority either.

Something began over the last few years that should be far more worrisome for locals who want the area to succeed — the population is in decline.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Adams County’s estimated population in July 2016 was 31,248. That’s more than 1,000 people less than the population in 1950 — 32,256.

We’ve basically shrunk down to less than we were prior to our area’s industrial heyday.

What’s sad is that the estimated population includes a couple of thousand federal inmates housed at the Adams County Correctional Center. Factor out those and the population numbers become staggering by historical comparison.

If we remove the federal prisoners from the equation, the current estimate of approximately 31,000 people becomes 29,000.

That means since 1980’s 20th century peak of 38,035, approximately 9,000 people have left the areas.

If you wonder why stores like Kmart and J.C. Penney closed in recent years, that dwindling population must be a huge factor.

That population decline affects everyone in business.

Less people means less potential customers — less people paying taxes to pay for police to locate and lock up the bad guys, less money going into the schools and even less students attending schools.

The single biggest problem facing our area is a declining population.

Our community must come together quickly to start talking about the problem and discussing possible solutions.

We cannot wish and hope things change; we need a plan.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.