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Kentucky’s metro areas expected to drive population growth through 2050, U of L report finds

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City of Bowling Green
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Kentucky’s population is expected to increase by more than six percent through 2050, according to a new report released by the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville.

Center researchers project 297,397 new residents will move to the commonwealth in the next three decades. The growth won’t be experienced through the state, however. Seventy-five of Kentucky’s 120 counties are expected to lose population during that same time period. The cause of the decline, according to the report, will be the number of residents who die over the next 30 years and the loss of residents choosing to leave a particular area of the state.

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Kentucky State Data Center
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University of Louisville
Population growth and loss projected in each Kentucky county through 2050.

The counties experiencing population loss in the report are concentrated in eastern Kentucky and western Kentucky. The county expected to see the most loss is Pike County, with a projected loss of 23,592 residents. Rounding out the top five counties for population loss are Knott, Letcher, Martin, and Magoffin. All five are located in Appalachia.

Mirroring nationwide trends, the report finds Kentucky’s metro areas will drive the commonwealth’s overall population growth. Fayette, Warren, Jefferson, Boone, and Scott counties are projected to be the top-five Kentucky counties for population growth. Scott County is a suburb of Lexington in Fayette County. Boone County is located in northern Kentucky, part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

Warren County is unique among the counties experiencing major growth, according to Kentucky State Data Center Director Matt Ruther. The county is projected to gain 74,743 residents through 2050, the second-highest growth in the report just under Fayette County’s 75,659. Ruther said Warren County’s location and economic opportunities are driving factors behind the expected population increase.

“Warren County is sort of well-poised for this type of growth,” Ruther said. “It has a large university, it’s on the interstate between Louisville and Nashville. It was just sort of ready for this growth.”

If the report’s calculations pan out, Warren County would surpass Kenton and Boone counties to become Kentucky’s third-most populous county by 2050.

One wild card in the coming decades is the impact of climate change on population growth. Ruther said no way exists to model climate change in the report, but Kentucky is expected to fare better than much of the country from the worst impacts of the environmental shift.

“Kentucky is better situated than a lot of the west coast, Arizona, Nevada, these types of places, that water is going to become a really big problem,” Ruther said.

The report comes amid ongoing recovery from natural disasters on both ends of Kentucky. Devastating tornadoes ravaged western Kentucky in December and historic flooding in eastern Kentucky put towns throughout the region under water earlier this month. Both the tornadoes and the flooding primarily hit counties that are projected by the report to lose population.

You can find the full report from the Kentucky State Data Center here.

Dalton York joined WKU Public Radio in December 2021 as a reporter and host of Morning Edition. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in History from Murray State University, and was named MSU's Outstanding Senior Man for fall 2021. He previously served as a student reporter and All Things Considered host for WKMS, part of the Kentucky Public Radio network. He has won multiple Kentucky Associated Press Awards and Impact Broadcast Awards from the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. A native of Marshall County, Dalton is a proud product of his tight-knit community.