This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering governmental, school and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older.  This article is published in this month’s issue.

By Jimmie Covington

The beginning of new Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration brings with it optimism that many good things will happen for Memphis and its citizens over the next few years.

Hopefully, many positive things will occur. However, the reality is that some of the goals set forth by the new mayor will not be achieved.

One of Strickland’s goals is for Memphis to increase in population without annexation. Population trends over the decades seem to make the achievement of that goal an impossibility.

Elected officials in both Memphis and Shelby County governments over the years have not seemed to grasp the extent to which the movement of people has been occurring.

The city has been experiencing an outflow of residents for 50 or so years now.

Census and birth-death figures show that Memphis had one of the largest exoduses of residents in history during the 2000-2010 decade. Yet elected officials took little note of it and did not indicate that they understood what the figures actually revealed.

Maybe they just looked at the surface figures and chose not to delve into them. The census counts showed Memphis had 650,100 residents in 2000 and that the number had dropped to 646,889 in 2010.

Just looking at these numbers might leave the mistaken impression that Memphis had only a small loss of 3,211 residents.

However, a review and analysis of the figures shows quite a different picture.

For starters, the 2010 Census figures showed that for the first time in history Memphis’ population declined in a decade in which the city carried out a major annexation. Between 2000 and 2010, the city took in territory with 40,000 residents. Also, vital statistics records show that Memphis had at least 30,000 to 40,000 more resident births than resident deaths.

That’s a net loss of 70,000 to 80,000 or more residents to outward movement over the 10 years.

And things don’t look very good so far this decade in terms of population for Memphis and overall for the nine-county Memphis metro area. Census estimates show more people are moving away from the nine-county area than are moving in. Areas in the nation with strong and growing economies attract more people than they lose. Areas with weak or slow-growing economies lose more people than they gain.

DeSoto County, Miss., continues to have good growth but so far this decade it is not Mississippi’s fastest growing county and no longer ranks among the nation’s top 100 fastest growing counties.

The economic growth that is occurring in DeSoto County, Shelby County outside Memphis and some other parts of the metro area apparently is not strong enough to attract more people into the area than are moving away.

Whatever success Memphis has had in recent decades in economic development has not resulted in more people moving in than moving out of Memphis. Major new economic development in Memphis obviously would provide the city and the area a major boost but there is nothing at this point that indicates such development would have a significant impact on population movement patterns within the area.

Memphis has a long history of growing on its edges and then increasing its population through annexations. A review of census figures back to 1900 shows that the city’s population would have increased in only a few decades if annexations had not occurred.

In answer to a question during an interview several years ago, a veteran planning educator was asked if he expected Memphis’ population to increase. He said he thought it would in “islands,” but indicated he didn’t see growth overall. Some of the “islands” are Downtown, Midtown, Cooper-Young, the Poplar Corridor, and maybe one or two other areas.

With their new school systems, Shelby County’s suburban municipalities appear to be poised for continuing growth. And the Hispanic population has been, and may continue to be, a factor in Memphis’ population numbers.

Hopefully, Memphis citizens will find that Strickland and his administration take a more realistic view of the city’s population numbers than officials have in the past.


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