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South Williamsport, PA
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County Hall Corner: Common Sense Census

The initial figures have finally been released for the 2020 Census. Over the next few months, more data will be coming out, but these first statistics have some interesting items of interest. In 2020, 331 million people lived in the United States, and the population is growing, however it is the lowest recorded annual growth

The initial figures have finally been released for the 2020 Census. Over the next few months, more data will be coming out, but these first statistics have some interesting items of interest. In 2020, 331 million people lived in the United States, and the population is growing, however it is the lowest recorded annual growth since 1918. The overall population age is getting older, and more and more are living alone, although not those in the 18-25 age bracket, who are more and more living with parents or relatives. Natural births are going down, immigration is going up.

That is the big picture for our nation, and the news for our own Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not very good. Our state grew by 2.4 percent through the decade, but the nation as a whole added 7.4 percent. Our slow growth resulted in joining other Rust Belt states such as New York and West Virginia in losing a congressional district due to population loss, as well as the Great Lake states of Illinois and Michigan, and the West Coast states of California and Oregon. Pennsylvania does win a hollow victory in that it is now the fifth-largest in population state in the USA, jumping over Illinois for that honor.

These six states’ losses resulted in congressional district gains awarded to the growth states of Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Montana who will each gain a new congressional district. Texas wins the grand prize of gaining two new congressional districts.

Focusing in on Lycoming County, the news is somewhat like our state at large. We lost population, just like 43 others out of the 67 counties in our state. But, our hollow victory is that we saw much less population decline than our neighboring counties. Our 2010 population was 116,111 and in 2020 was recorded at 114,188, an almost 2,000 person drop. Our 1.7 percent decline, however, is modest compared to the loss percentages of neighboring counties such as Sullivan (9.1 percent loss), Potter (-6.1), Union (-5.0), Clinton (-4.6), Columbia (-3.8), and Northumberland (-3.0).

Though the chaos of COVID in 2020 made conducting the census a nightmare, these numbers are probably fairly close to accurate. Bradford County had a 4,000 shortfall miscount from the 2010 census and did not want to relive that fiasco again. Yet even they still had a drop of 2,655 people, a 4.2 percentage loss.

Census figures are just numbers, but they also tell a story. Rural communities struggle to compete with the natural advantage of the 23 counties that did grow, such as the Lehigh Valley and the major urban hubs. The coal mining and production industry that helped initially build the rural areas in the past have suffered from technological changes resulting in such industries becoming antiquated and obsolete.

The good news for Lycoming County, and for which might account for the smaller population loss than our neighbors, is that education and health care appear to be growth feeders. For example, Centre County, home of Penn State University, saw a 2.7 percent increase in their population. Likewise, Montour County, home of Geisinger Hospital in Danville, also saw an increase, albeit a small one, 0.7 percent.

With two strong educational institutions — Lycoming College and Pennsylvania College of Technology — and a thriving health care community in UPMC and the new Geisinger Clinic opening soon, should bode well in providing some foundational support for growth. The promising possibilities of new industries opening in the area may attract young families and keep others from wanting to leave to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Our nation’s decennial census process is like a report card on how each area is going. California and Oregon, long seen as dream havens to live in, are now rapidly being abandoned. High taxes, high crime rates, and more and more frustration with basic services such as water and electricity extenuated by heavy handed public officials have caused a lot of folks to vote with their feet and move out. Texas and Florida complement their environmental climate advantages with more freedom and lifestyle opportunities that are wooing away the West Coasters.

Pennsylvania may not have the best climate, but it has a tremendously beautiful natural environment, a rich history, and great potential that is not being fully tapped. Rather than weep over the 2020 census, public and civic leaders in Lycoming and the surrounding counties should start putting those Comprehensive Plans they worked so hard on into action. If the status quo is not changed and the present downward trends continue, the last one out should turn off the lights.

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