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New Data Shows That Declining Populations May Not Be All Bad for Virginia's Rural Counties

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New numbers from the census bureau show that rural parts of the state are losing population. But that isn’t necessarily a problem.

Declining population is generally looked at as a bad thing — a lower tax base, for example, and a sagging economy. But Hamilton Lombard at the UVA Weldon Cooper Center says sometimes declining population can be a benefit.   

“Many of the localities that have the lowest tax rates — when you look at states measuring their fiscal strength or even when you look at just income growth — some of the ones that have the best indicators are the ones that have declining population, particularly some of these rural counties.”

Highland County in western Virginia, for example, or Nelson County in the Blue Ridge. Lombard says these areas have some of the lowest tax rates and some of the highest income growth. But Fabrizio Fasulo at VCU’s Wilder School of Government says there’s a long term problem with attracting retirees while shedding young people.

“So you may see an increase in activities targeting for retirees. But you may see also a decrease of other economic activities, from manufacturing to other retail.”

People may think of Northern Virginia has being the most economically dynamic part of the commonwealth. But the new numbers from the Census show rural areas with declining population actually have better indicators, like high income growth, low tax rates and high fiscal strength ratings.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.