FILE - Downtown Indianapolis

Downtown Indianapolis

(The Center Square) – The majority of Indiana counties lost population in the last 10 years, according to new U.S. Census data released Thursday, and almost all of them rural counties.

 “All told, 49 of Indiana’s 92 counties lost population over this period,” said Matthew Kinghorn, the senior demographer at the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “This represents the largest number of Indiana counties to show a decline between censuses since the 1980s.”

The five rural counties that lost the highest percentage of population are: Switzerland (-8.3%), Greene (-7.1%), Parke (-6.8%), Pulaski (-6.6%) and Randolph (-6.4%).

Some larger Indiana counties that had significant drops in population included Grant (-4.8%) and Wayne (-3.4%).

All the counties along the western edge bordering Illinois, with the exception of Lake County near Chicago, lost population between 2010 and 2020, as did all of the counties in the east-central part of the state, outside of the Indianapolis metro area.

While people leaving small towns and rural communities and heading to urban areas is part of a national trend, not in recent memory has a census map for Indiana seen numbers like this.

“Well-paying jobs are not available, they’re drying up in rural communities and so that forces people to move,” says Roberto Gallardo, head of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development. “Quality of place,” he says, is another issue he and other Purdue researchers have identified as one reason people leave small towns and country life.

“Even if potentially you’re remote working, it may make it hard or not as good to live in rural communities,” Gallardo told The Center Square, citing fewer health care options and fewer amenities like restaurants in rural areas. 

In the two censuses before 2020, in 2000 and 2010, only a handful of rural counties in Indiana saw drops in population. In the last 10 years, almost all of them have lost population.

And it’s clear where they went.

The 11-county metropolitan area that includes Indianapolis, Carmel and Anderson added 223,163 residents between 2010 and 2020, resulting in an 11.8% increase in population.

The Indianapolis metro area now has more than 2.1 million people – which is 31% of the state’s total population.

Other fast-growing cities in the state are Fort Wayne, which saw its population increase by 7.6% over the last ten years; Columbus, which gained 7.1% and Lafayette, which gained 6.7%.

Muncie and Terre Haute both declined in population, with Muncie seeing an almost 5% decline and Terre Haute 2%.

The fastest-growing county in the state is still Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis, which has been the fastest-growing county in the state for five decades.

The county, home to the upper-middle class suburban towns of Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville as well as the smaller towns of Cicero and Arcadia, grew by 26.5% between 2010 and 2020.

The next fastest-growing suburb was Boone County, northwest of Indianapolis, home to Zionsville, which grew by 25%.

Hendricks, Johnson and Hancock counties were next, with growth rates of 20.2%, 15.8%, and 14.1%, respectively. All three border Marion County (Indianapolis).

Outside of the Indianapolis area, the fastest-growing county was Clark, just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, in far southern Indiana.

Clark County grew 9.9% in the last decade, followed by Jackson County, home to Seymour, Indiana, the hometown of singer John Cougar Mellencamp, which grew 9.6%.

Next was LaGrange County, in northwest Indiana, which grew by 8.9%. Over a third of the population of the county is Amish, and the Amish community’s high birth rate has consistently fueled the county’s population growth over the last several decades.

Marion County, home to Indianapolis, had the largest increase in population, adding 73,810 residents over the last decade – a 8.2% increase.

Marion remains the state’s most populous county with 977,203 residents, according to the 2020 census. The next most populous county was Lake County, in the northwest corner, which added 30,081 new residents in the last 10 years.

The total population of the state of Indiana increased by 4.7% in the last 10 years and is now 6,785,528, according to U.S. census figures released in April. The Indianapolis area’s growth accounted for almost three-quarters of the state’s increase in population.