We need an adequately funded census to manage growth

December 8, 2008
I recently had the honor of addressing the annual conference of Professional Swan Callers International-Indiana Chapter meeting at Lake Monroe. Naturally, those members had the same concerns as other Hoosiers: What should be the priorities of President-elect Obama and Gov.-re-elect Daniels?

I quickly addressed the obvious: the economy, taxes and spending, education, health insurance, health care, the environment, energy, transportation, public safety, cultural chauvinism and college football playoffs. Then I got to the leading neglected task for our new president and our returning governor: the 2010 census.

Every 10 years, we count ourselves. The census is the leading source of information about us, an essential resource for successful businesses, efficient governments and responsible not-for-profit organizations. But Congress, as ever, has shortchanged the Census Bureau, and the bureau, as ever, has squandered part of the money it was allocated. To my knowledge, most Indiana governments have not allocated funds nor addressed the issues involved in conducting a successful census.

The census is the basis of representative democracy. If each voter is to have an equal say in government, the congressional and legislative districts must be constructed according to the counts determined by the census as taken each 10 years.

Between those benchmark years, the Census Bureau does release population estimates that have many uses. For example, we can identify the 44 of our 92 counties that gained more than 1 percent in population from 2000 to 2007, and the 28 counties that lost at least 1 percent of their people. That left 20 counties with changes of between plus and minus 1 percent.

Of 567 Indiana cities and towns, 29 percent grew more than 1 percent and twice that amount (58 percent) declined more than 1 percent. The remaining 13 percent gained or lost less than 1 percent. Altogether, cities and towns grew 2.7 percent, while the state's growth rate was 4.2 percent. Indiana's unincorporated areas grew at 6.9 percent, the same rate as the nation as a whole.

While cities and towns represented 65.5 percent of the state's population in 2000, they captured only 42.7 percent of the state's growth. In terms of people to be served, cities and towns added 108,000 residents, while the unincorporated areas of our counties added 145,000 citizens, a difference of 37,000.

Are the costs of adding population in cities and towns the same as adding them in unincorporated areas? If we could, would we change this pattern of growth?

Each county had a different experience of population change in those seven years. In 2000, 82.5 percent of Allen County's residents lived in cities and towns, but only 1.6 percent of the county's population growth was realized by those incorporated areas. The unincorporated areas of the county grew by 16,200 more people than the cities and towns gained. Similar dramatic imbalances existed in Vanderburgh and Elkhart counties.

In all, 71 counties added more residents to their unincorporated areas than to their cities and towns. The remaining 21 Indiana counties saw the opposite: more people choosing cities and towns than the unincorporated areas. This pattern of growth was most evident in Hamilton and Hendricks counties.

Where people choose to live within a county is determined by many factors including water, the fertility of the land, taxes, transportation, schools and environmental amenities. Where people are allowed to live has been unquestioned during most of our history. But are the times a changin'? Will energy costs become a significant incentive for living within cities and towns?

Without good data, public and private decisions will be hampered in the next decade.


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.
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