Shrinking by Gregg Motley


I have reported in earlier columns that Bourbon County and the other 16 counties that make up SEK are all shrinking; every one of us lost population between the 2010 and the 2020 census.  The final count for Bourbon County was an 813 person drop from 15,173 to 14,360, a 5.4% decrease.  Another way to think about it is that we lose about 81 people a year.


Who are these people?  Are we losing the rich or the poor, the young or the old, the employed or the unemployed?  These are important questions to answer, because those of us who want to stay are faced with an ever increasing tax burden, especially if those leaving are wage earners, property owners and those with a higher income.  Let’s take a look at what the numbers say:


Category/Year 2010 % 2020 %
Under age 18 3,886 25.6% 3,590 25.5%
Ages 18 to 64 8,659 57.1% 7,869 54.3%
Ages 65 & Over 2,628 17.3% 2,901 20.2%
Total Bourbon Co.Pop. 15,173 100.0% 14,360 100.0%
People in Poverty 2,412 15.9% 2,082 14.5%


The good news is that we are holding our own on percentage of young people, and the number of impoverished residents of our county declined significantly in the last 10 years; let’s hope they earned their way past the poverty line rather than moving away.  The trend that hurts is the drop in the number of working age adults, which is almost exactly the net number that moved away.  Yes, some of those people stayed here and account for much of the increase in the over 64 population (present company included), but either way, it means less wages earners paying taxes in Bourbon County.


How do these trends compare with the four counties around us?  I reported last week that we are the county with the lowest percentage of working age adults and the highest in average income.  Looking at 2019 poverty statistics, four of the five counties experienced declining poverty; Crawford was the exception with a slight increase.  Linn County has the lowest poverty rate by a wide margin at 12.0%; we are a distant second.  All five of the counties considered have a higher poverty rate than the State of Kansas as a whole.


Who cares about this?  Governments and businesses need this data for planning.  Site selectors from corporations considering another location find this information invaluable.  These are numbers that heavily influence decision-makers and have a large say in our future prosperity.


In the short run, schools need to plan for declining enrollment.  Governments need to consider that there are fewer taxpayers in their jurisdiction when they consider levies and spending.  Strategies need to be considered on a comprehensive basis as to how to reverse these trends.  Most importantly, those strategies need to be formulated and executed across jurisdictional lines.  Now is not the time for emotional parochialism.


We have many positives we can leverage.  We need to play economic development offense and administrative cost defense.  Let’s decide to put aside our petty differences and work together on solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *