University of Arkansas Walton College economist Mervin Jebaraj says Census data shows that Northwest Arkansas population growth has accounted for about 87% of the state’s overall increase in this decade.
Jebaraj, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, analyzed the newest Census data related to Arkansas’ major metro markets and rural areas of the state.
“I think one statistic that’s pretty stark is that since the 2010 census, 87 or so percent of the population growth in Arkansas comes from Benton and Washington counties. That’s a pretty stark number,” he said.
Jebaraj said that rural parts of the state are bleeding a loss of population. The eastern and southern Delta regions of the state saw massive population losses this decade.
“Within the 75 counties in the state, about only one-third added any population at all,” he said, noting that only central, Northwest and Northeast Arkansas added population above 5% from 2010-2018.
“[A]lmost the entire eastern side or eastern third of the state with the exception of Craighead and Greene counties are losing population, and almost the entire southern third of the state with the exception of Miller and Sevier counties are losing population as well,” he said. “So by and large, if you’re looking at the state as a whole, it’s almost a sea of red in terms of population loss.”
Jebaraj noted that from July 2017-July 2018, the population growth in Northwest Arkansas slowed down from previous years. While growth was 2% over the past year, that only brought about 10,700 into the region versus 12,000 in previous years.
“It certainly is a problem for the marketers for this region. It was a whole lot nicer to say 1,000 people a month than it is to say 891 people a month,” he said, noting that employment opportunities are still the huge driver bringing newcomers to Benton and Washington counties.
“Back in that time that we were having 12,000 people a year, our employment grew about 4% or 3.5%. Last year, the employment [in NWA] grew only about 2.2%,” he said. “I still think of Northwest Arkansas as a place that people come to largely because they get a job here, and it’s not exactly a region, or it’s not yet a region where people just move to and then find a job. People usually come here with some offer of employment. So the employment growth slowdown in Northwest Arkansas is accounted for in this population growth that we’ve seen.”
To view Jebaraj’s comments on the smaller population growth seen in Central Arkansas, the Jonesboro metropolitan area, and the Fort Smith metro, watch the video below.