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'Discouraging' census numbers show a decline in urban Kansas City while suburban counties grow

Images from balloon glow at the World War I Museum and Memorial on May 30. More than 30,000 people (4-5 times more than expected) showed up overwhelming vendors and clogging traffic in the area.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Population in Jackson County is dropping.

After years of gain, urban core counties in the Kansas City area — including Jackson County and Wyandotte County — have started shrinking. But Johnson County is thriving.

Before the pandemic, Jackson County, Missouri, and Wyandotte County, Kansas, had been growing.

But between July 2020 and July 2022, U.S. Census figures show, Jackson County’s population dropped by more than 1,000 people and Wyandotte shed more than 3,000 residents.

“I’m concerned about that,’ said Frank Lenk, the director of research services at the Mid-America Regional Council. “It probably means that some of those older areas that tend to have majority people of color have begun losing population again.”

Lenk said a drain on Wyandotte and Jackson Counties suggests some weaknesses in those areas that present problems for the broader Kansas City area.

“We want a regional world where all parts are healthy,” he said. “Population losses is a sign that things aren’t quite right.”

Lenk said both of the most urban counties in the metropolitan area saw birth rates decline, and death rates rise, between 2020 and 2022. He said the population losses reflect an exodus.

“That means people are leaving these counties for other counties someplace in the U.S.,” he said. “Much of it might be with other counties within the metro. We can’t tell that from this data.”

Suburban Kansas City counties, on the other hand, are thriving. Johnson County — the second most populous county in the Kansas City area and the biggest in Kansas — jumped by more than 8,000 people. Clay and Platte counties each added more than 3,000 people. Leavenworth and Douglas counties in Kansas were both up about 1,000 people from July 2020 to 2022.

Census reports later this year will compare the Kansas City area to other metro areas, but Lenk says that data is not yet available.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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