Census: Kentucky Cities Drive Growth, Rural Population Declines

Aug 13, 2021

Credit Ryland Barton

Rural Kentucky, especially in far-eastern and western parts of the state, saw sharp declines in population over the last ten years, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile populations increased in areas around urban hubs like Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

The data sets the stage for state lawmakers to draw new legislative and congressional district boundaries—the contentious redistricting process that takes place every ten years after the census.

With supermajority control of both legislative chambers, Kentucky Republicans will be totally in charge of the redistricting process for the first time in state history.

But the shifts in population to more urban parts of the state could force Republican legislators to make tough decisions about consolidating rural districts in areas where they have gained influence in recent years.

Scott County, which includes Georgetown just north of Lexington, experienced the largest percentage increase in population with 21.2%. Other top-growers were Warren County with 18.2%, Boone County, with 14.4% and Shelby County, with 14.2%.

Bell County, which includes Middlesboro on the Virginia border, had the sharpest drop with 16%. The other counties with the sharpest population declines were all in eastern Kentucky, with Owsley County losing 14.8%, Cumberland County losing 14.1% and Knott County losing 12.8%.

Overall, Kentucky’s population increased by about 3.8% since the 2010 census—a slight increase that means the state didn’t add to or lose any of its six congressional seats.

The new census data also shows Kentucky became slightly more racially diverse, though it still lags behind much of the nation and ranks as the 9th least diverse state in the country.

Kentucky went from 86.3% white in 2010 to 81.3% in 2020. The Black population increased from 7.7% to 7.9% and the Hispanic/Latino population increased from 3.1% to 4.6%.

Kentucky’s most racially diverse counties are Jefferson, Christian, Fayette, Fulton and Warren counties.

The new census data would have been released last year, but was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a normal year, lawmakers would have gotten population data before this year’s legislative session and could have already drawn new district boundaries.

Because of the delayed release, legislators will be scrambling to redistrict the state ahead of next year’s elections for all Kentucky’s congressional seats and most legislative seats.