Kansas and Missouri see net gains in population

06/06/2011 6:50 AM

06/06/2011 6:50 AM

Watch out, Missouri.

Not only is Kansas luring away some of your businesses, it's also getting some of your people.

Although people are regularly moving between the two states, Kansas is gaining an edge, new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show.

But don't get your pride hurt, Missouri. You're a winner, too.

In fact, both Kansas and Missouri are bucking a Midwest trend:

While the region on balance is losing people to sunnier climates in the South and West, more people are moving to Kansas and Missouri than are moving out, according to the Census Bureau.

"They're not states that are going to grow rapidly in large numbers, and they're not going to decline rapidly in large numbers," said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. "They're sort of steady-state kinds of populations and seem to be hanging on pretty well."

The Midwest lost 223,000 people to other regions from 2009 to 2010 as industrial and agricultural jobs evaporated, sending people elsewhere in search of work. But Missouri and Kansas hung tough, bringing in people even as the Midwest was losing population.

Kansas and Missouri had about 25,000 more people moving into both states than moving away from 2008 to 2009 — a period when the Midwest lost 62,000 people.

Kansas had a net gain of about 13,600 from other states in 2009 from 2008 while Missouri gained about 11,000.

The causes could be any number of factors: More retirees moving into southern Missouri, more people moving into suburbs outside Kansas City, even a thriving Kansas meatpacking industry.

For Seth and Stefanie Jackson, leaving Texas for the Kansas City suburbs was about a job and returning home to family and friends.

"Overall, Dallas is a good city, but there was something about coming home," said Seth, who took a new job with a logistics company in Kansas City.

While Stefanie says she still loves Dallas, there definitely have been pluses about moving to Kansas, whether it's light traffic or good barbecue.

"Kansas is a great place to raise a family," she said. "The people here are way more friendly. It's a way more laid-back environment here."

What's striking about the census data is that more people are moving to Kansas and Missouri at a time when we don't seem as mobile as we were 60 years ago.

Nationwide, only 3.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county between 2009 and 2010, the lowest percentage since 1947-48 when the Census started tracking how we move. In 1950-51, about 7.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county.

Experts blamed the slowdown on the mortgage crisis, high unemployment and young adults who want to move but can't afford to with the economy in the tank.

"I think there's a pent-up demand for migration among these young folks," Frey said.

"They're either living with their parents, or spending time in a place they don't want to be, and they're waiting to get a place in the suburbs they can't afford or can't get financing for."

Kansas arrivals

Migration patterns in Kansas are influenced partly by the health of meatpacking plants in the southwest corner of the state and their attraction to immigrants wanting jobs, said Laszlo Kulcsar, a demographer at Kansas State University.

"When we think about migration we usually assume that people are coming from other states to Kansas ... and we tend to discount the international migration," Kulcsar said.

The other factor, Kulcsar said, is the growth of suburban areas like Johnson County, which grew by nearly 21 percent in the past decade to become the state's largest county. The county's growth was boosted by a mushrooming Hispanic population.

Kulcsar pointed out that there's a great disparity in the movement patterns in Kansas.

While it may sound wonderful that more people are coming into Kansas than leaving, most of the gains are concentrated in several counties near urban areas or in the southwest corner of the state, he said.

Meanwhile, the people who are leaving Kansas are moving from small, rural counties that the state is trying to rescue.

Gov. Sam Brownback has stepped up efforts to build population in those rural counties in western and north-central Kansas that have bled residents over the past decade.

A bill passed by the Kansas Legislature this year would give a five-year income tax abatement to people who move from out of state to one of 50 counties that have had big population losses.

In Missouri, migration patterns differ from region to region, said Bill Elder, director of the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at the University of Missouri.

The areas of the state north of the river behave more like the rest of the Midwest in that they're losing population, he said. Areas south of the Missouri River reflect more of the growth patterns seen along the Gulf Coast extending up into Arkansas, he said.

Metro shifts

Overall, in the movement of people between Kansas and Missouri, about 5,500 more people moved to Kansas from 2008 to 2009, census data show.

Some of that movement is centered in the Kansas City metro area, where schools on the Kansas side can be attractive for residents who want to leave the city for the suburbs, experts said.

"People aren't moving to move to Kansas. They're moving to move to Johnson County," Elder said.

Planners said Internal Revenue Service data showed a net gain of 200 to 300 people a year moving to the Kansas side from the Missouri side of the area.

"There is a net shift from the Missouri side to the Kansas side, but it's not perhaps as large as most people think it is," said Frank Lenk, research director for the Mid-America Regional Council.

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