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home : most recent : statewide implications December 12, 2017

12/6/2017 6:35:00 PM
EDITORIAL: Indiana's population decline in rural counties has viable solution

Jack Ronald, Commercial Review Publisher

One data point ought to give this community alarm.

When Dr. Jerry McKibben reviewed his demographic study for the Jay School Board the other night, he dropped a little bomb.

It seems that down the road, unless current trends are reversed or slowed, the time will come when Jay County’s annual deaths will exceed the number of births.

In other words, if we do not grow, we start dying.

The trend is already at work in rural Indiana.

Five counties — mostly in the western part of the state — have already seen that happen.

And chances are, they will not recover.

It’s tough enough to reverse decline, but when you’ve reached that tipping point, there may be no coming back.

What does this mean for Jay County?

Population locally peaked about the time of the Gas Boom, and it’s been pretty much steady since then.

But like the farmland around us, it has continued to erode.

The median age keeps creeping up. The number of families in the child-bearing age group keeps diminishing. Time keeps taking its toll.

So, what do we do about it?

Fold our cards and accept it as inevitable?

That’s a loser’s game.

But the winning game is much more complicated.

Attracting young families, encouraging local young people to stay and build their careers here, opening ourselves as a community to new in-migration, all of those can make a difference.

At the risk of sounding radical, let us toss out another possibility: A conscious, strategic effort to make Jay County a welcoming home for new immigrants to the United States.

(Told you it would sound radical.)

When then-governor Mike Pence closed the doors to Syrian refugees — both Christian and Muslim — fleeing the carnage in that country, it was impossible to ignore the human capital that was being lost: English-speaking families, engineers, medical professionals and talented individuals of all stripes.

Why turn them away?

Why turn them away when they could boost our labor force, replenish our school enrollment, refresh and enrich our communities?

State policy seemed foolish and short-sighted at the time.

But the numbers in the demographic study underscored the stupidity of the state’s position.

Would it be difficult to embrace and integrate and put to use an immigrant population that was different in culture and, perhaps, religion?

Sure It would be one heck of a challenge.

But would it — dramatically and decisively — undo the inexorable numbers of the demographer’s assessment of the future of rural Indiana?

You bet it would.

All it needs is a political champion with the courage to carry the banner.

The demographer’s study laid out the challenge.

The question is whether we have the courage to take it on.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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