Blackwell population plummets as rural areas suffer

by Jordan Green

Blackwell has lost more than 1,000 residents in the last decade. That’s according to the latest release of data from the 2020 U.S. Census. Blackwell’s population dropped from 7,092 in 2010 to 6,058 in 2020 – a decrease of roughly 15%.

The city’s population decline mirrors that of other rural cities across the state, and it decreased at twice the rate the U.S. Census Bureau predicted it would. The bureau estimated Blackwell would have a population of 6,562 in 2019, a 7.5% decline from 2010, according to its periodic population estimates.

Those results, however, are unofficial. The number of occupied housing units in Blackwell dropped from 2,840 in 2010 to 2,532 in 2020. The number of vacant units increased from 558 in 2010 to 686 in 2020. Blackwell isn’t alone with a population decline. Every city and town in the Kay County has lost residents in the last decade.

Ponca City had a population of 24,424 in 2020, a decrease from 25,387 in 2010. Tonkawa had a population of 3,015 in 2020, down from 3,216 in 2010. Newkirk had a population of 2,172 in 2020, a drop from 2,317 in 2010. Kaw City had a population of 325 in 2020, down from 375 in 2010. Braman had a population of 160 in 2020, down from 217 in 2010. Kay County’s population dropped by roughly 6.1% in the last decade.

The county lost more than 2,800 residents from 2010 to 2020, according to Census data released in August. The county’s population now stands at roughly 43,700, compared to 46,562 in 2010. Kay County’s population drop is part of a nationwide trend among rural counties, many of which are shrinking as an increasing number of Americans move away from rural areas and toward metropolitan areas.

“Many counties within metro areas saw growth, especially those in the south and west. However, as we’ve been seeing in our annual population estimates, our nation is growing slower than it used to,” said Marc Perry, a senior demographer at the Census Bureau.

“This decline is evident at the local level where around 52% of the counties in the United States saw their 2020 Census populations decrease from their 2010 Census populations.” Other counties in north-central Oklahoma had similar population declines. To the west of Kay County, Grant County’s population dropped from 4,527 in 2010 to 4,169 in 2020, a roughly 7.9% drop. To the south, Noble County’s population dropped from 11,561 in 2010 to 10,924 in 2020, a roughly 5.5% drop.

To the east, Osage County’s population decreased by roughly 3.5% from 47,472 in 2010 to 45,818 in 2020. While Oklahoma’s population grew, that growth largely occurred in metropolitan areas such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The state gained about 208,000 new residents in the last 10 years, a 5.5% increase.

With more than 3.9 million residents, Oklahoma has the 28th largest population of all U.S states and the District of Columbia. About 86% of the nation’s population lived in metropolitan areas during 2020, a 1% increase from 2010. About 8% lived in micropolitan areas, which are regions that have between 10,000 and 50,000 residents.

“Over the last decade, the nation grew at its slowest rate since the 1930s, a slowdown broadly reflected in local area 2020 Census population counts,” Census officials said in August. “Less than half of the nation’s 3,143 counties or equivalents gained population from 2010 to 2020, while the populations of around four-fifths of metro areas grew during the time period.” The United States has a population of more than 331 million, Census data shows. That’s an increase of more than 22 million people, or 7.4%, since 2010.

California has the largest population of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia with more than 39.5 million residents.

Texas has the second-largest population with more than 29 million residents, and Florida has the third largest with roughly 21.5 million. Census data is used in redistricting processes for legislative seats across the nation, both at the state and federal level. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Census didn’t release detailed data to lawmakers on time, officials said. In Oklahoma, state lawmakers used Census population estimates to redraw districts during their regular legislative session this spring.

Those plans were passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Lawmakers are expected to conduct a special legislative session this fall to redraw federal congressional districts. The new districts will be used during elections starting in 2022.