The Population Debate

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

an increase of 265,000, but at the same time 65,000 people moved out of the state." Many of these were highly educated people who moved to the east and west coasts, where there was more economic growth.

In the 1980s counties in rural north Missouri lost as much as 20 percent of their population. The state's farm population has now dwindled to 100,000, but only 10,000 of these depend upon farming for their entire income. Most are now part-time farmers. Farms are becoming bigger, and there is a trend now for large commercial farms to rent or lease farmland rather than buy it, a fact that has implications for the conservation of wildlife habitat on rural lands.

Hobbs sees an important change for Missouri in the 1990s. From 1990 to 1993 the state's population increased by 5 percent, while the U.S. population increased by 6 percent, so Missouri is now growing at just about the same rate as the country as a whole-about 1 percent each year. From 1990 to 1996, Hobbs says, 104,000 more people moved into Missouri than moved out. In this decade even some north Missouri counties have gained population because more people are moving in than are moving away. "The population of Missouri has increased by 250,000 in the last six years," Hobbs says.

In just five years, the counties of Stone, Taney and Christian-a region that stretches between Springfield and Branson-have grown 30 percent. Hobbs also cites a high rate of growth in a region that starts at Columbia and moves south through Jefferson City, the Lake of the Ozarks and Springfield.

Some of the growth in both areas can be attributed to retirees who come to Missouri because the cost of living is so much lower. "Housing in Missouri costs only about one-third of what it costs in large cities on the east or west coasts," Hobbs says. Housing is even cheaper in rural areas. Retirees can sell a house for a large sum, move to Missouri and live well on the profits they made on the old house.

What is fueling the growth in the 1990s that Missouri lacked in the 1980s? Hobbs points to a change in the economy. America used to have an economy based on manufacturing, but much of that work has been driven to foreign countries where labor is cheaper. Information, high-tech industries and even entertainment have replaced manufacturing as the heart of the

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