Population surprises: KC’s Northland beats Johnson County, and more

moJohnson County’s population growth rate has slowed dramatically, while the Northland in Missouri bids to become the new king of the hill in the Kansas City area.

Those are some of the more surprising and interesting pieces of information gleaned from recently released U.S. Census data, which provided population estimates as of July 1, 2016.

— The Northland of Clay and Platte counties is booming, driven by suburban-style houses built there.

In this decade so far, Platte County has grown 10.1 percent in population to lead the six-county metropolitan area, with Clay County right behind at 7.7 percent.

Johnson County is third at 7.4 percent, followed by Wyandotte County, 4.0 percent; Cass County, 3.4 percent; and Jackson County, 2.6 percent.

— Here’s one stunner, even for people who have known about the Northland’s growth for years.

Census estimates show Clay and Platte counties added 5,706 people from July 2015 to July 2016. That was just a hair more than Johnson County’s gain of 5,693 people.

It’s just one year. But it’s also a significant change from the past, when Johnson County regularly gained more residents than Clay and Platte counties.

The two counties’ feat is even more impressive because they have just over 337,000 people, far smaller than Johnson County’s 584,451.

— It might be just a coincidence (or not), but Johnson County’s population growth rate is way down during the era of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

In the first six years of this decade, the county has added an average of just over 6,700 people annually.

That’s far lower than the average 9,270 residents gained each year in the 2000s;  the 9,600 a year in the 1990s, and the nearly 8,500 a year in the 1980s.

Why is it happening?

The slowdown has occurred during the years of almost unprecedented financial and political upheaval in the state, all driven by the incompetency of Brownback. His failed income tax cuts have decimated the budget and brought tons of negative national press.

The county’s long-beloved public schools are still solid, but their budgets also have become pawns in the tax-cut dramas playing out in Topeka. More families are deciding they can get good educations for their children in the North Kansas City, Park Hill, Platte County and Liberty school districts in the Northland.

— Here’s another way of measuring what’s going on in the metro area.

In the last several decades, Johnson County by itself has been adding more residents than the four largest counties on the Missouri side of the state line in Kansas City. But not any more.

So far this decade, Johnson County is up 40,272 residents. To be clear, that’s still more than double any other single county.

But Clay, Platte, Jackson and Cass counties have soared in population by 47,143.

Sure, four-counties-on-one doesn’t sound fair. But when you look at census history, you’ll see that Johnson County through the decades has been the undisputed champion.

In the decade of the 2000s, Johnson County gained 92,700 people while the four Missouri-side counties combined added slightly fewer, at 90,143.

In the 1990s, Johnson County added 96,032 people; the Missouri-side counties gained 86,336.

And in the 1980s, Johnson County added 84,785; the Missouri-side counties gained a puny 41,204.

That pro-Johnson County trend is in danger of being reversed this decade.

— Finally, Jackson County has enjoyed a mini-surge in population.

Growth especially has occurred in downtown Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, making up for continued losses in central-city neighborhoods.

In the last year, the county added 5,428 people, almost matching Johnson County’s 5,693.

From 2010 to 2016, Jackson County’s population is up 17,643 — on pace to be its best decade in a long time. In fact, in the 1970s the county lost more than 25,000 people, then gained only 4,000 in the 1980s.

Since 1990, Jackson County is up almost 65,000 people.