Forty-one percent of North Carolina municipalities have seen a decline in population between 2010 and 2016, according to recent study by UNC Carolina Population Center.
The northeast corner of the state has seen the largest population decline — specifically Bertie, Northampton and Washington counties. The ten municipalities with the greatest percentage declines all lie within these counties, according to the study.
Although some municipality populations, like that of Rocky Mount, appear to be “leveling out,” Bertie County is still being hit hard, as it contained the eight municipalities with the greatest percentage of population decline between 2015 and 2016.
Jessica Stanford, the author of the study, said this population trend is largely due to the changing job market.
"Jobs in such rural occupations are on the decline, meanwhile skilled labor jobs are growing at such a rate that we don’t have enough growth to support it,” she said.
Those moving out of these small towns seem to be moving to metro areas in North Carolina or other nearby states, said Stanford.
She said counties surrounding cities with robust job markets, like Research Triangle Park and Charlotte, however, have experienced growth.
“Since 2010 the Triangle and the Charlotte-Concord areas accounted for 72 percent of the state’s growth,” she said.
Mayor Larry Drew of Aulander, North Carolina — a town which experienced a 9.2 percent population decline between 2010 and 2016 — said much of the decline was due to the closing of the Golden Peanut shelling plant, forcing 81 workers to be laid off.
Additionally, many of the people leaving the town are college students who then never move back, Drew said.
Despite this, Drew said he remains positive about his town, especially about Aulander’s volunteer Little League Baseball program.
Drew said recreation is vital to sustaining the town’s population, but Bertie County spends most of its money on the Windsor area, on the opposite side of the county, despite Aulander's petitions to receive recreation money.
“If we don’t have some recreation for the kids you’re not going to attract new families,” Drew said.
Stanford said although retirees generally stay in small towns, families are tending to move to metro areas.
“People want to find jobs and start their families where they can find work,” Stanford said.
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