Tennessee Population Growth 2000-2010
As previously noted, the Western Division registered a growth rate significantly below the state and national average from 2000 to 2010. Although Shelby County had a gain of more than 30,000 people for the relevant 10-year period and Tipton county, a bedroom county of Memphis, had a greater than 19 percent increase in population for this period, the total gain in population for west Tennessee was much less than for middle and east Tennessee.
Only three West Tennessee counties, Chester, Fayette, and Tipton, recorded a growth rate of more than 10 percent from 2000 to 2010. One reason that so many Western Division counties lost population or gained very slowly is that many of these counties lie outside the state's major transportation routes, either railroads or highways. Also, many west Tennessee counties rely heavily on agriculture. As agricultural conditions continue to change, with fewer farms and fewer farmers, economic opportunities diminish in these counties, and their residents look outside the area for jobs. Thus, many Western Division counties continue to lose young people through out-migration.
It is interesting to observe that the age structure has changed over time in those Western Division counties that have lost population or grown slowly. For decades, many of these counties have seen young people leave for jobs in urban areas inside or outside Tennessee. As a result, the resident population in West Tennessee is older, with median ages that exceed the state average in over two out of every three counties. Moreover, the over-65 age group constitutes a larger percentage of the total population than the state average. These demographic factors have led to fewer births, declining school enrollments, and in some cases a natural decline in population (i.e., more deaths than births in a year). This, in turn, has led to various forms of economic deterioration, including aging and vacant housing units.
One reason that so many Western Division counties lost population or gained very slowly is that many of these counties lie outside the state's major transportation routes, either railroads or highways. Also, many west Tennessee counties rely heavily on agriculture.
Western Division Counties: Population Change and Rank, 2000-2010
Due to the above factors, the economic structure has changed in these counties. With more people in the retirement-age category, the average income tends to be lower than in counties in which a larger percentage of the population is engaged in economically productive activity. Less income is earned from current labor and more from transfer payments such as Social Security and public assistance, so fewer taxes are generated. Thus, several counties in west Tennessee have faced decades of population loss, culminating in adverse economic and demographic consequences. Further population losses will have even more severe results because the population and economic bases have already eroded over the decades. The future viability of many small communities in these counties is questionable. More than the other divisions, the Western Division needs state assistance in diversifying its economy and developing a stronger economic base.
Shelby County accounted for significantly more of the population increase in the Western Division from 2000 to 2010 than any other county, almost as much as all other counties in that division combined. Although Shelby County grew very slowly, almost four times as slowly as the state average, several factors may have contributed to this slow growth rate. One reason is that in recent years its growth rate of the earlier part of the 20th Century could not be sustained and supported by the existing economic (agricultural) base. Of more immediate impact is the loss of several large manufacturing and financial-service establishments in the past several years, including the relocation out of state of regional offices of major insurance carriers as well as International Harvester and Firestone.
Counties contiguous to Shelby County did not experience the sharp population surge in the 2000-2010 period that those adjacent to Nashville and Knoxville enjoyed. One reason is that the primary beneficiaries of the population spillover from the Memphis metropolitan areas were neighboring counties in northern Mississippi. Given current growth trends, the Nashville MSA will have more inhabitants than the Memphis MSA in the near future.