County population in slow decline

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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The number of people living in Beaufort County is slowly shrinking according to federal and state statistics. 

Population numbers are determined by birth rates, the number of deaths, migration to an area and emigration from an area. 

Estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau shows from April 2020 to July 2022 Beaufort county’s population dwindled from 44,690 to 44,272 for a decrease of 0.93%.  

In 2020, the bureau estimated there being 44,690 residents living in Beaufort County. The following year, that number fell by 252 people for a total of 44,438. Last year, the number fell again to 44,272 for a difference of 166 former county residents. 

The decline in numbers is not a surprise for those who have followed population records for the last decade. Earlier records from the North Carolina Department of Commerce show a 7.3% decline in population from 2010 to 2020. In 2010, the population was estimated to be 47,759 by the department.  The department’s reported figures from 2016 to 2019 trended downward from 47,369 to 46,994. 

From 2016 to 2019, the county’s birth rate remained fairly consistent at around 9%, according to the Beaufort County Health Department. This is lower than the state’s which is around 11%. According to the local department, a majority of the population falls into two age groups, 55-64 (at 15.4%) and 65-74 (at 14.1%). 

Residents in Beaufort County list several reasons why it is a great place to live – from friendly neighbors to relaxing by the water and many retail stores and restaurants to patronize. However, the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management does not predict there being more residents in Beaufort County enjoying its amenities and quality of life. They predict Beaufort County’s population will continue to trend downward to approximately 41,438 in 2029. Their last prediction was in 2019 and it was 41,438. 

A knee-jerk reaction to why the population is declining would be that the current population is aging and there is a housing shortage county-wide. A housing shortage presents a challenge in attracting future residents and businesses that would bring jobs. This is why county commissioners voted in favor of the creation of a housing taskforce to address the shortage and find ways to combat it. 

When the taskforce was created in December of last year, the Daily News reported Commissioner John Rebholz saying housing was the most important issue in the county, because without it the county can neither expand its tax base nor increase its workforce. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the City of Washington. With the addition of the Wheatfield neighborhood, the second phase of Moss Landing and a potential apartment complex on Clarks Neck Road – all happening this year – it is attempting to fight off a population decline and attract possible residents.  

On a statewide level the population is growing at a rate of 1.3%, according to the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management. From July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, the state’s population increased by 133,000 people. This is higher than the state’s average annual change between 2010 to 2020 of 1%. 

Dr. Michael Cline, a state demographer with the Office of State Budget and Management projects North Carolina’s population will continue to grow into 2050 by 3.4 million people, or 32%. 

The state’s population is rising, because people are moving to North Carolina from other states and countries, the state Office of Budget and Management reported. “Overall, domestic and international migration accounted for 95% of the state’s growth in the past year. The remaining growth was attributed to natural increase – 6,000 more births (122,000) than deaths (116,000).”

North Carolina is the ninth largest state in the nation with 10.6 million residents. What is important to note is the state’s population is aging. In the next six years, every fifth North Carolinian will be either 65 years of age or older and by 2031 there will be more people of retirement age than children ages 0-17, according to Dr. Cline. 

Therefore, the census taken in 2040 is anticipated to predict more deaths than births which is why migration will be critical for population growth in the coming future.