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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This population loss trend is depressing and so bad for the future. Everyone i know constantly talks about their wish to be moving away from Memphis, and I don’t just mean to DeSoto County. It’s also very botheting that the entire 9 county region is losing population. In contrast Nashville and its metro area are booming with growth and economic development. I read that more than 100 people move to Nashville every single day!
I lived in Memphis for 30 years and Nashville for 32 years. I can honestly say that I would never move back to Memphis. Memphis is still living in the 60’s in race relations, attitude, politics, etc. I just don’t see things happening in Mphs. There is a much different attitude in Nashville the last 20 years
Great post- thank you Mr. Covington. Don’t let the resident troll’s comments above dissuade you from future contributions.
Anonymous 1 – What’s your source for saying that the entire nine county MSA is losing population?
Anonymous 2 – We’re glad you’re in Nashville.
Actually, Mr Covington’s article states that the 9 county area is losing ground (paragraph 12).
He says “Census estimates show more people are moving away from the nine-county area than are moving in.” That’s not the same as saying the entire MSA is losing population. You have to also factor in births. The MSA has gained population although it is clearly a slow growth MSA.
Although DeSoto County continues to have good growth, it has not been the fastest growing county in Mississippi so far this decade as it was during 2000-2010. Census estimates so far this decade show that Lafayette County (Oxford) has had the highest growth rate among Mississippi counties since 2010 and it, rather than DeSoto County, is ranked among the nation’s top 100 fastest growing counties. What probably should be of concern to Mississippi residents overall is that despite comments by the state’s political leaders about major success in business and economic development, newly released census estimates for the year that ended last July 1 show that Mississippi is among seven states where the total population declined over the previous year. That means the states had a larger net loss to outward movement than they gained through births exceeding deaths. Here is a paragraph from the Census Bureau release that was issued late last year:
Seven states lost population between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015: Illinois (22,194 or -0.17 percent), West Virginia (4,623 or -0.25 percent), Connecticut (3,876 or -0.11 percent), Mississippi (1,110 or -0.04 percent), Maine (928 or -0.07 percent), Vermont (725 or -0.12 percent) and New Mexico (458 or -0.02 percent).
Jimmie, some clarification please. The Census Bureau tables list “population” and “population estimate” for cities. The 2014 “population estimate” for Memphis is 656,861, compared to “population estimate” of 651,858 in 2010 and “population” in 2010 of 646,889. That increase of .8 percent is about the same as Lakeland and Arlington and not far behind Bartlett. Are “population estimates” invalid, and if so why are they in the tables?
As for Nashville supposedly gaining 100 new residents a day, that would be roughly 35,600 new residents a year. While I agree that it seems that way (or more) when I visit Nashville, the Census table shows a gain of “only” approximately 43,000 residents from 2010 to 2014.
These are good points. As you know, the Census Bureau conducts census counts only once every 10 years. The major purpose is to reapportion the U.S. House of Representatives. Since Baker vs. Carr, the census count figures are also used to redistrict state legislatures and local government bodies. No matter how late in a decade the lines are redrawn, the count figures from the previous census are always used. But as we all know census data is also used for a lot of other things such as how to parcel out funding under a lot of government programs. As a result, the bureau makes intercensal population estimates each year. In the annual estimates report figures for Memphs, the official 646,889 population count figure for 2010 is shown in the first column. The second column then lists an estimates base figure, which for 2011, 2012 and 2013 was basically 646,889 (it was 646,872 for 2013 and I have no idea why). For the 2014 estimates the estimates base jumped to 651,858. No one has ever told me specifically but it is clear to me that the increase was primarily a result of adding the 2010 count figures in the areas that have been annexed since 2010. The primary area was South Cordova and I think there may have been one or two smaller areas. They then use this revised base in making the estimates for all the years in the decade. I recall that during 2000-2010, some 40,000 was added to the estimates base after areas were annexed that included the 2000 Census counts in those areas. That gave an estimates base of 690,000 leading up to the 2010 Census. In writing about the overall gains and losses in the city’s population, I always use the once-a-decade census count figures plus birth and death figures. The birth-death figures are actually the most accurate figures of all since they come from annual vital statistics records. Census count figures are the number of people counted in a census. We know there is always un undercount. Although there are studies and statistics are often reported, a lot depends on just how accurate the census count is from one decade to the next. Was the undercount significantly higher in Memphis in 2010 than it was in 2000 or in 1990 etc. or the other way around? We really don’t know.
No Census Bureau estimates are made on how many people are moving into and out of a city since the boundaries of cities change through annexations. Migration estimates are made each year for counties, metro areas and states. I have used some of those estimates in these postings but I always try to label them as estimates. For cities, counties and states, the annual estimates for all years are always changing from year to year as more information becomes avaiable. For example, the 2012 estimate for Memphis in the upcoming report for July 1, 2015, likely will differ from the 2012 estimate in the report for 2014. Estimates do sometimes reflect trends but sometimes they don’t. I have a lot less faith in the estimates than I do in the census count figures and I realize the count figures are several thousand off.
Some people talk about how many people are leaving Memphis for Nashville but I never use any of those figures. The Census Bureau does report some county to county migration figures but I have questions about how valid they are. I recall that a few years ago that Nashville-Davidson did successfully challenge some population figures and some adjustment was made.
One other thing, the Census Bureau has two sets of estimates–one is the annual estimates report and the other is the annual American Community Survey (ACS) report. The bureau always points out that the annual estimates are the official census estimates rather than the ACS numbers. The ACS does include a margin of error in all of its numbers. The actual numbers probably do fall somewhere within the margin of error.
I probably have made this too long and rambling but hopefully it will help.
I found the annual census estimates report for Memphis for July 1, 2009. It lists the April 1, 2000, Census count at 650,100 the census estimates base at 690,743 and the estimate for July 1, 2009, at 676,640. The April 1, 2010, Census count was 646,889. This reflects that sometimes the census estimates are way off compared to the official counts.