Lake County losing population, Porter County gaining
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org March 18, 2013 3:38PM
Michelle Westerfield (left) gets help moving baby items from friends Allen Skrandell (center) and Ginger Smotek (right) as she and fiance Jason Klang (not visible) move out of their one-bedroom apartment in Hobart, Ind. Thursday March 14, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 29, 2013 4:04PM
Lake County saw a slight decrease in population in the past two years, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Its population dropped by 2,494 people from 2010 to 2012, a drop of about half a percent. Porter County saw its population grow during the same time period by 1,117, which also comes out to about half a percentage point.
Overall, though, Northwest Indiana has dropped from 708,473 people in 2010 to 706,800 last year, according to the new estimates.
The falling numbers mean the area could possibly be in trouble during the next census count in 2020, which the state and federal governments use to determine how much funding each community receives.
The estimates do not go below the county level, so it’s unknown how the populations of individual cities and towns have changed.
Lake County Council President Ted Bilski said he was surprised by the estimated drop in population. Understanding what it means for the county is hard to say now, however, without more details, such as where exactly the loss in Lake County is happening. For instance, if the loss is coming from within incorporated areas, those taxing units are likely to suffer more.
“We do have some economically depressed areas here that can contribute to people leaving,” he said. “But it would be better to have data for all the taxing units.”
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub said he wanted to talk with other county officials before deciding what, if anything, should be done. Scheub already thinks the last census count in 2010 understated the county’s population, he said.
“I think it’s something serious we have to look at because we can’t afford to decline if it’s not true,” he said.
Young people leaving more?
Don Koliboski, director of economic development for the Northwest Indiana Forum, said the size of the available workforce in an area can affect development decisions, but he wasn’t concerned about the new census estimates hurting Lake County.
“Lake and Porter county citizens are fortunate in that they can easily commute from county to county or into Chicago for employment regardless of their county of residence,” he said.
The census estimates don’t provide any clue as to where the departing Lake County residents are moving to or why, and Bilski said there could be any number of reasons, from the economy, to people leaving bedroom communities for other areas seeing new development.
“It could be a million things,” he said.
Steve Stall, office manager for Jeff’s Movers in Merrillville, said his company has helped people making long-distance moves both to and from Lake County. If there’s been any trend, he said, it’s that young people appear to make up a large portion of those leaving the county.
“We haven’t seen a great increase, though,” he said.
Stall actually estimates that his clients who are leaving and coming to Lake County are about even. Of those who move in, most come from Illinois, he said.
Other large counties in the state are seeing mixed results. Allen County, home to Fort Wayne, saw its population increase by almost 5,000 people, or 1.2 percent, and Marion County’s population increased by more than 14,000 people, or 1.6 percent. St. Joseph County saw a slight decrease, however, of 467 people, and LaPorte County dropped from 111,467 people to 111,246 people.