From 1960 to 2010, Kansas had a population growth rate of about 0.54%. Analysts expect this Midwest state to grow at an average of 0.32% over the next 50 years, which is somewhat slower than expected. While Kansas has seen working families move out of the state since the Great Recession, it has also seen people moving into the state, primarily for its affordable cost of living. Let’s take a look at the six fastest-shrinking counties in Kansas and learn why residents are fleeing.
1. Morton County
Located in southwest Kansas, Morton County has a 2023 estimated population of 2,542. During its last census in 2020, there were 2,701 people in the county. Between 2010 and 2021, Morton County shrank by an annual average rate of 1.6%, and its largest decline was from 2015 to 2016, when the population dropped by 5%. Elkhart is the largest city and county seat of Morton County. This region of the state is relatively rural and is seeing a decline in young families as they move to metro areas for work.
2. Elk County
Named after the river of the same name, Elk County lies in the southeastern part of the state, where it contains around 2,400 people. Howard is the county seat and most populous city. For this part of the state, residents live rurally with only one hospital and one pharmacy, causing many to travel to Wichita for basic needs. Residents also have a higher food insecurity rate than the overall state and a poverty rate of more than 16%. While the homes may be more affordable, the lack of opportunity is driving people away.
3. Ness County
Located in West-Central Kansas, Ness County featured a population of 2,687 at its last census in 2020. As of 2023, its estimated population is down to 2,561, with a growth rate of -1.61% within the last year. Ness City is the largest city within the county, with a population of around 1,300. Employment has declined by a rate of -7.06% in Ness City and it has shrunk in population by 13% by 2000. Lack of entertainment and resources and poorly rated public schools are some of the reasons for its declining population.
4. Barber County
Named after Thomas Barber, a free-state settler, Barber County has a rich and sometimes volatile history. This county is in South-Central Kansas and featured a population of 4,228 at its latest 2020 census. The largest decline occurred between 2019 and 2020 when the population dropped by 5.8%. Medicine Lodge is the county seat and most populous city, featuring 1,781 people. Around 20% of the population of Barber County lives in poverty, and the job diversity is poor. Like many rural counties, residents in this area don’t have access to the same amenities as those closer to major cities.
5. Phillips County
Located in North-Central Kansas, Phillips County had a population of 4,981 at the 2020 census and a growth rate of -1.36% within the past year. Phillipsburg is the county seat and largest city in Phillips County, with a population of 2,254. This small town is known for its annual rodeo, where it has the reputation of being one of the biggest in the state. The population in Phillipsburg has declined by over 10% within the last year, and the poverty rate has increased by nearly 9%, with a total poverty rate of 13%. While median household incomes have slightly declined and are below the national average, property prices increased by over 4%.
6. Meade County
Meade County, created in 1873, is in Southwest Kansas, where it’s known for its rich history. Meade is the largest city and county seat, and the county features a total population of 4,022. Meade County had a population growth rate of -1.32% within the past year, much lower than the national average. While Meade features a tight-knit community and a low crime rate, residents live at least an hour away from grocery stores and other amenities. The job market is also small, and can be challenging for the younger population to find steady employment.
A Recap of the 6 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Kansas
|Rank||Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Kansas||Cities Affected|
|#1||Morton County||Elkhart, Rolla, Richfield|
|#2||Elk County||Howard, Longton, Elk Falls, Moline, Grenola|
|#3||Ness County||Ness City, Bazine, Ransom, Brownell, Utica|
|#4||Barber County||Medicine Lodge, Kiowa, Sun City, Hardtner, Sharon, Lake City, Hazelton, Isabel|
|#5||Phillips County||Phillipsburg, Kirwin, Logan, Agra, Long Island, Prairie View, Speed, Glade, Woodruff|
|#6||Meade County||Meade, Plains, Fowler|
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