MARCUS: Lopsided population shift raises alarms

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

Morton J. MarcusWith all the hoopla about basketball, several important issues are being neglected. But what else can arouse the passions of our citizens?

OK. Forget passion. What piques our interest, stimulates our concerns? Clearly, the high-handed machinations of our political leadership don’t do the job.

The governor wants to lower the income tax rate. If he wants to keep spending down, he could give each taxpayer a one-time fixed sum of money ($30). He need not, however, lower the tax rate and make financing state government even more difficult in the future.

The Republican-dominated Legislature wants to decide three things for Indianapolis instead of leaving them to the people of our largest community.

1. They want to give $100 million to Indianapolis Motor Speedway from state money.

2. They plan to change the structure of the City-County Council to favor the GOP.

3. They assume the right to tell the people of metro Indianapolis whether they can decide for themselves the future of public transit in the area.

All the while, no one pays attention to a sentence buried in the middle of a recent news story out of Indiana University: “54 of Indiana’s 92 counties lost population last year.”

Doesn’t this send alarm signals to all of us?

All right. You don’t want to take one year’s evidence as cause for concern. Try this: Over the past 10 years, 39 of our 92 counties have lost population. The biggest losers include the urban counties home to Muncie, Marion, Richmond, Anderson, Logansport and Kokomo.

Does the Legislature or administration have policies for reversing urban decay? State officials seem happy to let matters take their course. During the past 10 years, six Indianapolis metro counties have accounted for 59 percent of the population growth in the state. We hear no discussion of this increasing centralization of economic, social and political power.

People and power are flowing to the Indianapolis area and leaving the balance of the state. Between 2002 and 2012, 67 Indiana counties have seen more people moving out than moving in. This net out-migration totaled nearly 111,000 persons. At the same time, we have seen 171,000 moving into our other 25 counties.

Most of this churning of population is county-to-county, with the difference of 60,000 providing net growth for the state.

This kind of movement has important benefits and costs that deserve attention and possibly policy responses from the state. Benefits include the basic freedom to live where one has the best opportunities consistent with one’s desired lifestyle. Yet they come at a cost we often call urban sprawl.

Communities that lose population have growing fiscal problems as they must maintain the infrastructure of a larger population. When houses become empty or have fewer residents, the same miles of streets need to be maintained and plowed in winter.

Growing communities typically have an increasing tax base; contracting places suffer from declining revenue.

No one recommends the state take action to retard the growth of population in the Indianapolis area.

However, we could consider how to revive our slowly decaying urban centers before they deteriorate further.•


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of the university’s Indiana Business Research Center. Send comments on this column to

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