Population dips again — but not by as much


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Elizabeth City’s population continued to shrink in 2016, but not by as much in prior years, new Census data show.

The data also show the city's demographics are changing, as it's becoming older and whiter.

The Daily Advance reviewed the data after City Manager Rich Olson reported Friday that the U.S. Census Bureau had released its 2016 population estimates. In highlights, Olson pointed out the city's population is now 18,025, down 3.5 percent from 2010 but only down 0.5 percent from 2015.

Olson also noted the city’s population shrank by 1.3 percent from 2014 to 2015. Data also show the city lost population by almost 1 percent annually from 2012 to 2014.

Coupled with an uptick in median household income, Olson expressed optimism the city is poised for growth. Increased enrollment at Elizabeth City State University, new housing construction and full apartment complexes are all working in the city's favor, he noted.

The Census data show the city's median household income also rose about 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, from $30,803 to $33,398. Olson credited the increase with a mix of factors, including new employers, existing employers paying higher wages and employers offering fewer lower-wage jobs.

The Daily Advance's review of the data reveals other findings. For example, Pasquotank County's population also shrank — falling 0.3 percent to 39,909. Despite that decline, the county’s population is shrinking at a slower rate than Elizabeth City’s rate. Because the city is part of the county, population loss has disproportionately affected the city.

The data also show that, for Pasquotank County as a whole, median household income is now higher than in 2010. The Census Bureau estimated Pasquotank's median household income last year was $45,750, up from $44,085 in in 2010. Elizabeth City's median household income, while growing, is still below its median income of $34,532 in 2010.

The Census Bureau's new data also reveal the racial makeup of Elizabeth City is changing faster than Pasquotank's as a whole. Elizabeth City's black population has declined from 10,397 in 2010 to 9,375 in 2016. The Census Bureau, meanwhile, found the city's white population rose during that time period from 7,301 to 8,219. That means Elizabeth City is now about 52 percent black and 46 percent white, with other ethnic groups making up the 2-percent remainder.

Pasquotank as whole has experienced only a 1-percent decrease in black population, falling from 15,167 in 2010 to 14,580 in 2016.

Olson and County Manager Rodney Bunch declined to speculate on why Elizabeth City is seeing changes in its racial makeup.

Commenting generally on the city losing population faster than the county, Bunch noted that home ownership is higher in the county, making it a reasonable inference city residents would be more likely to leave the area for economic or other reasons.

Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Cecil Perry and Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker, both of whom are African American, said a lack of jobs could be driving the city's loss of black residents. Perry added that a lack of opportunity and education could also be factors.

Parker cited other factors, including a lack of activities, particularly for young people, that she said could also be contributing to the population loss.

Parker also said there are various reasons the city may be losing population faster than the county, including lower rates of home ownership, and people wanting not wanting to pay both city and county property taxes.

Notably, the Census data show the city and county's median ages have both increased slightly since 2010.

Going forward, Parker said there are reasons to believe the city's population will grow. Apart from growing enrollment at Elizabeth City State University, the city is recruiting new businesses, there's an effort by the Committee of 100 to attract retirees to the city, and the city continues downtown and waterfront development, she noted.

Perry also said he's optimistic that economic growth will help the county and city start growing again.

Key data

* Elizabeth City’s population in 2016 was 18,025, down 0.5 percent from 2015.

* Elizabeth City's black population fell from 10,397 in 2010 to 9,375 in 2016. The city's white population, meanwhile, rose from 7,301 to 8,219. 

* The city’s median household income in 2016 rose from $30,803 to $33,398.