Hays Just as the 2010 Census is getting started, the last in a string of estimates on county populations has been released.
For northwest Kansas, the results revealed a virtual bloodbath since 2000, the last time a complete census was taken. It was no cakewalk, however, between 2008 and 2009, the latest figures available.
“It’s more of the same,” said Joe Aistrup, a Kansas State University interim associate dean and a former Fort Hays State University professor. “Once again, it’s the continuation of a long trend that has been with us since 1910.”
And there’s no sign the trend will end anytime soon, he said.
Estimates released Tuesday showed 85 Kansas counties — 80 percent — saw people either dying off or migrating to larger counties.
Forty counties in Kansas had double-digit losses, among them every northwest Kansas county other than Ellis.
Ellis County has had a meager 0.8 percent increase since 2000, the equivalent of 232 people. The other 19 counties lost 11,314 people since 2000.
As of July 1, 2009, only 98,911 people lived in the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas.
The Kansas population is up nearly 5 percent, most of that growth in Douglas, Sedgwick and Johnson counties. Johnson County is up 20 percent, while at the other end of the spectrum, Kiowa County, four counties south of Hays, lost 29.2 percent of its population.
In northwest Kansas, Wallace County, with a 19.5 percent loss, had the dubious distinction of leading the way. But it had plenty of company in the state: Greeley, Jewell, Lane and Ness counties all had 18 percent or greater losses.
Single-year losses varied widely, such as the 3.64 percent recorded in Graham County. But Ness, Rooks, Smith and Logan counties all had an annual loss of 2 percent or higher.
Aistrup, a political science professor at K-State, said the steep losses in the western half of the state stem from the business that is so predominant: It simply takes fewer people to farm and extract natural resources.
“They become more efficient at what they do, so they require fewer people,” Aistrup said.
And, he thinks there’s a trend for people to move to metropolitan areas because of what they have to offer.
“You name it, and it’s there,” Aistrup said. “Everything is there and handy.”
That’s especially noteworthy, he said, because the hope had been that the advent of computers could result in a rural renaissance, through long-distance work.
Instead, he said, computers have compressed time so much that minutes are no longer expendable. As well, there are economies of scale for urban areas to offer a virtual smorgasbord of services and amenities.
As a result, declines in rural areas will continue — at least until a balance is struck.
“There will be an equilibrium found somewhere,” he said, for instance when the number of farmers remaining and supporting businesses is found.
But that also could spark consolidations, if the budget crisis doesn’t do it first. The state’s current budget crisis already has sparked talk about school consolidation and scrapping the one-judge-per-county requirement.
“That’s just beginning,” he said of the consolidation specter.
Likely, Aistrup said, those changes will take place 10 to 20 years down the road.
“When you go through any budget crunch, those things go from drawing board to reality,” he said. “I think the first wave of consolidation will happen to us within the next decade. I think we’ll start with schools.
“And then other governments.”