We’re a small but good crowd

Published 2:42 pm Thursday, July 27, 2017

Since I started working this job, I’ve been attending Northampton County’s Board of Commissioners’ meetings twice a month. At the most recent meeting, there was a bit of discussion during public and board comments about population decline within the county. The topic was brought up because of a recent article in the News & Observer entitled “41 percent of NC towns are declining in population. The worst are in the northeast.”

The Raleigh-based newspaper drew their information from a study done by Carolina Demography, which is a consulting service focused on researching all sorts of demographic data.

According to the Carolina Demography data, of the top 10 municipalities with the largest percentage population decline from 2010 to 2016, five of those towns are in Northampton county: Conway, Garysburg, Woodland, Gaston, and Seaboard. The percentage decreases for these towns ranged from 8.9% to 9.6%.

These are large percentages to be sure—only Lewiston-Woodville in Bertie County had a larger percentage decrease at 10%—but it’s important to note that the percentages are also affected by the small population size. This is something Commissioner Geneva Faulkner pointed out during the discussion during the board meeting. A loss of a few from a group of 500 people, for example, constitutes a bigger percentage than a loss of a few people from a group of several thousand.

It’s important to note that Carolina Demography’s data also looked at population decreases for the 2015-2016 period as well. For that data set, Garysburg was the only town still in the top 10 for percentage decreases, perhaps indicating that the decline has started to level off. 

In addition to these stats, the News & Observer article added that 23% of Northampton’s residents are 65 or older, which is higher than the state-wide average. The indication is that the county’s population will continue to decline as the death rate of elderly citizens will overtake the county’s birth rate, especially because young people aren’t staying in the area.

Listening to this data being discussed during the Commissioners’ meeting, I don’t think any of us were very shocked by the information. Northampton is a rural county, probably filled with more trees than people by my estimate. If you drive around our winding roads, everything looks like a shell of our former self with old decaying houses dotting the landscape like museum pieces poorly preserved.

From my perspective, I can see where some of the concerns come from. A lot of children who grow up here move away for college and simply decide not to come back. And if we looked at those statistics, we’d probably see more of a young exodus than a young return, though admittedly I don’t have a demographic study to back that up.

But personally, I always wanted to come back home to Northampton County. The four years away at college were nice, but as soon as I graduated, I packed up and moved right back. I wanted to be close to my family and I had missed the quiet country life. There were downsides, of course, to coming back and readjusting to life in Northampton County: the lack of job opportunities, having to drive outside of the county for different food and entertainment, being away from all my friends.

Whenever I complain about these things to friends who live away, they’ll ask “why don’t you just move to the city?”

It would certainly be easier in many ways to just leave, but I’d rather we all work together to improve Northampton County instead. Why should I have to leave my home for something better, when I could try to fix it up instead?

It’s been five years since I graduated college and moved back, and change has indeed been slow. But we’re not the completely desolate wasteland that some would like to paint us as. Just in the few months I’ve been writing for the News-Herald, I’ve covered stories about the opening of Jackson Grocery in Jackson and Du Dobb’s Restaurant in Rich Square, as well as plant upgrades at West Fraser in Seaboard and the installation of a new playground at the Wellness Center in Jackson.

Let’s not give up just yet.

While it’s true the population here may be declining, we—both the Commissioners and the citizens, young and old—can still stay informed and work together to continue improving both our economic situation as well as preserving our way of life.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.