Census figures show population drops in NEPA
About 2,000 fewer people lived in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro in 2013 compared to the previous year, as deaths outpaced births and more people fled the area than flocked to it.
All seven counties in Northeast Pennsylvania lost population between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, according to new annual estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau today. Unlike the once-a-decade census, the annual estimates are based on records such as birth and death certificates, tax forms and Medicare enrollment.
Gordon De Jong, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of sociology and demography at Penn State, said the aging population, low birth rate and lack of economic opportunity in Northeast Pennsylvania continue to cost its residents.
“The fundamental underlying trend is continued, if not accelerated,” Dr. De Jong said.
As a reporter in the nation’s capital, Kyla Campbell spends a lot of her days chasing down politicians. One of her interview targets this week was Kathleen Sebelius, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Before she moved to Washington, D.C., in November 2012, the Nescopeck native happily lived and worked in Northeast Pennsylvania as a TV reporter for WBRE-TV. But a promise of higher pay pushed her to abandon home for greener paychecks.
“I didn’t really ever want to leave,” said Campbell, now 32, Wednesday. “I wanted to stay there with my family. But financially, it just made more sense to be here instead.”
While the population of Northeast Pennsylvania has remained relatively flat in the past few years, Dr. De Jong said guessed that improving economic conditions around the country were luring people, such as Campbell, to more prosperous areas. More than 1,000 people left both Luzerne and Monroe counties in the timeframe covered by the census estimates. Lackawanna County lost 450 people to other parts of the country, according to the estimates.
One of the few areas of population growth in Northeast Pennsylvania is international migration, which includes foreigners as well as native-born Americans, such as members of the military, moving in from homes abroad. Lackawanna County gained more than 400 people, and Luzerne County more than 500 people, according to the estimates. Most of that growth was focused in the metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, the birth rate outpaced the death rate in only two Northeast Pennsylvania counties, and those victories were essentially draws. Monroe County saw 1,413 babies born compared to 1,406 deaths; Wyoming County had 299 births, while 296 people died, according to census estimates. By comparison, the birth-to-death ratio in Lackawanna County during the same time period was 2,181 to 2,570, and 3,198 to 3,973 in Luzerne County.
The data are no reason to push the panic button, said Teri Ooms, the executive director of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, a regional think tank financed by higher education. She pointed out that the 2010 census showed population growth in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties for the first time in half a century and emphasized that the estimates released today were exactly that: estimates.
“I think it’s a short term blip in response to the economic conditions,” Ooms said. “It’s just another indicator that the region needs to be extremely proactive on creating job growth.”
She lamented that lack of growth and said it was possibly leading to the exodus of people from Northeast Pennsylvania, which in turn may be to blame for the unemployment rate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area finally falling: the more people who leave, the fewer look for jobs.
But Ooms also touted the area’s business potential, citing its proximity to major markets like New York and Philadelphia, the large amount of higher education institutions pumping out job candidates and the affordable cost of doing business and real estate. If the area can better harness those attractive economic drivers, she said, the future need not be so dark.
“A look at a census report doesn’t really do our region justice,” she said.