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Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 1:25pm

Census Details Today's Georgia

Georgia's rural population is shrinking, according to the U.S. Census.

The agency Thursday released more detailed information from last year's head-count. It showed, as expected, that most of Georgia's 1.5 million increase in population came in metro Atlanta and north Georgia.

University of Georgia demographer Doug Bachtel said losses in southwest Georgia are evidence of economic decline.

“Areas that are dependent on agriculture and natural resources -- like pulpwood or mining -- in a recession, those are some of the first industries that are hardest-hit,” Bachtel said. “As a result, when those job opportunities dry up, people have to leave.”

The Census Bureau released statewide population numbers earlier this year, which showed Georgia grew by 18 percent in the last decade and is now home to nearly 9.7 million people.

Bachtel said the state’s increase in residents was all about job opportunities.

“The growth is not only from natural increase but from new people moving in, and because Georgia is a business-friendly state with a diversified economy with job opportunities, that’s why we’ve had the growth,” Bachtel said.

Of Georgia’s largest counties, Forsyth County (78 percent increase), Paulding County (74 percent) and Henry County (71 percent) grew most.

Warner Robins, Gainesville and Valdosta were among large cities outside of metro Atlanta that saw significant growth.

Of the state’s five largest cities, only Athens-Clarke County saw significant growth, with 15 percent more people than in 2000.