41 percent of NC towns are declining in population. The worst are in the northeast.

Downtown Rocky Mount, N.C. is divided by railroad tracks.
Downtown Rocky Mount, N.C. is divided by railroad tracks. jleonard@newsobserver.com

While some parts of the state have grown in the past six years, a large portion of North Carolina is declining, according to data from the UNC Carolina Population Center.

Of the state’s 553 municipalities, 225 – or about 41 percent – saw population decline in 2010-16. Another 192 towns and cities saw growth lower than 6.4 percent over that time.

Three of every four North Carolina municipalities have lost population or grown slower than the state since 2010. And the northeastern part of the state has been hit hardest.

The top 10 towns with the greatest decline in 2010-16 are in Bertie, Northampton and Washington counties.

Jacksonville has seen the greatest decline in the number of people, dropping from 70,145 in 2010 to 67,784 in 2016 – a growth rate of -3.4 percent and a loss of more than 2,300 people, according to the U.S. Census.

Jacksonville is followed by Rocky Mount, Kinston, Elizabeth City, Roanoke Rapids, Havelock, Laurinburg, Reidsville, Rockingham and Tarboro.

Lewiston Woodville in Bertie County has seen the greatest decline in population percentage, going from 549 in 2010 to 494 in 2016 – a 10 percent drop – followed by Conway, Garysburg, Woodland, Gaston, Aulander, Seaboard, Roper, Askewville and Kelford, according to the U.S. Census.

Projections for Bertie, Northampton, Jones and Washington counties show that further population decline is imminent. According to U.S. Census data on components of change from 2010 to 2016, each of these counties demonstrated negative natural growth or natural decrease – where deaths outnumber births – and showed people leaving the counties. This pattern has occurred each year since the last 10-year census.

The trouble for those counties doesn’t end there. The population decline in those areas will only increase, according to the census, because each contains a large elderly population. About 23 percent of Northampton County is 65 or older, followed by 22 percent in Washington County, 20 percent in Jones County and 19 percent in Bertie County.

By comparison, only 16 percent of the population overall in North Carolina is 65 or older.

It’s hard to tell who is moving out of those counties, according to the population center, but historic trends for those counties show most people who leave are young, working-age individuals who may be searching for better economic opportunities. And that trend will only speed the decline in those areas, as people of childbearing age move away and choose not to start families in those areas.

To see the full data report, go to demography.cpc.unc.edu/2017/07/05/examining-decline-in-north-carolinas-municipalities.

In 1840, males outnumbered females 8.68 million to 8.38 million in the United States. By 1950, there were more females than males for the first time in U.S. history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. See other statistics showing how America has

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett