County’s inhabitants drops: With younger folks leaving, Lawrence may lose a state rep | Native Information
Lawrence County’s population dropped, from 91,108 in 2010 to 86,070 in 2020, a just-released U.S. Census reported.
That represents a decrease of more than 5,000 people, or roughly six percent. The City of New Castle also experienced a six percent population decline from 2010 to 2020, the Census reported.
Among other things, a smaller population could cost Lawrence County a state representative, local officials said.
Some county commissioners expect Lawrence to continue to lose residents, as the population ages and more young people move out, seeking job opportunities or a more urban lifestyle in larger metro areas in Pennsylvania or out-of-state.
“We’re not retaining our younger people, and they’re looking elsewhere for higher skilled and more technical jobs that we do not have,” Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel said.
She said a lack of response to the census from Lawrence County could also account for some of the population decline. The county’s response rate was about 70 percent.
In 2010, the City of New Castle had 23,273 people. In 2020, the count was 21,926.
“We have economic development issues and a lot of jobs not filled,” Spielvogel said. “I think we need to do more to promote the fact that there are good-paying jobs in Lawrence County and the cost of living is low here.”
County commissioners noted most counties in western Pennsylvania lost people.
“If you look at a map of the state and draw a north-south line in the center, all counties to the west, except Butler, Allegheny, and Washington, lost people,” Commissioner Dan Vogler said Friday.
Allegheny had a 2.2 percent gain of 27,000 people; Butler had a five percent gain of 9,900 people; and Washington County had a gain of 0.7 percent, or 1,500 people.
Erie lost 3.5 percent or 9,700 people. Mercer County lost 5,986, five percent; and Beaver County lost 1.4 percent, or 2,300 people.
Commissioners questioned whether the pandemic made the census less accurate, as people were more reluctant to open their doors for census takers.
Thus, it was their responsibility to be counted by signing up online. That means some people may have been missed.
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Vogler noted southeastern Pennsylvania is growing fastest, particularly in the York, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Philadelphia areas. Philadelphia County gained 78,000 people, a 5.1 percent increase.
The county with the biggest percentage gain was Cumberland, with a 10.2 percent population increase; Susquehanna County showed the largest decrease — 11.4 percent.
“The population seems to be shifting to areas with more people,” Vogler said. “Younger people in particular tend to gravitate toward more urban areas because of opportunity for careers and lifestyle.”
Twenty years ago, he said, Erie was the state’s third-largest city. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have remained first and second.
Ten years ago, Allentown became the third largest city; Erie dropped to fourth.
In the 2020 census, Reading replaced Erie as the fourth largest city; Erie is now fifth.
“It’s a reflection of growth in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” Vogler said.
The state likely will use new population figures for reapportioning legislative districts.
Commissioner Chairman Morgan Boyd said federal redistricting will be decided by the Supreme Court. “At the state level, I can easily see us dropping from three to two state representatives in Lawrence County,” he said.
In the county’s two largest townships, Neshannock gained 234 residents; Shenango Township lost 359.
Boyd said he sees the population continuing to trend downward. He is optimistic about the region, however, with growth in Allegheny, Butler, and Washington counties.
“How do we position ourselves to be part of a regional growth, to come back from an industrial collapse of the 1970s and1980s?” he said. “We have an aging population and our death rate is higher than our birth rate.
“People are moving closer to Pittsburgh for more opportunities and, as a trend statewide, people are moving out of the state and going South to find opportunity.
“If we are able to revitalize our neighborhoods and make our commercial districts more attractive to individuals living and working around Pittsburgh, we have real shot at bringing Lawrence County back,” he said.