While the State of Florida has shown a marked increase in both population and economic growth over the past decade, Jackson County has been moving in the opposite direction.
Since the year 2000, the State of Florida has averaged a population increase of 1,000 residents daily and now stands as the third largest state with a population of 20,271,272. Significantly, Florida ranks as the 4th fastest growing state in the country.
Since the 2000 census, Jackson County has lost population. Despite the fact that official numbers, when the prison population of 7,273 is deducted, the 2015 population is 40,956 rather than the census figure of 48,229. In 2000, the total population was given at 41,065 with a prison population of 5,690 making the total census population 46,755. The chart clearly shows the only increase in population comes from the number of prisoners incarcerated in Jackson County.
Jackson County’s labor force has also decreased. In 2000, this county’s labor force was counted at 19,391; by 2015, the total labor force has decreased to 17,361. In those 15 years, Jackson County’s workforce has decreased by over 2,000.
The school enrollment in Jackson County follows this trend of lower population. In 2015, there were 6,850 students enrolled. This was a decrease from the 8,354 students enrolled in 2000. In just 15 years, Jackson County has lost 1504 students, an average of 94 students per year.
Should this trend of decreasing enrollment continue for the next 10 years, Jackson County will lose an additional 1,000 students. A loss of 1,000 students would equate to the total enrollment of Graceville High, Graceville Elementary and Malone School (K-12), OR the enrollment at Sneads High and Sneads Elementary Schools; OR the enrollment at Cottondale High and Cottondale Elementary Schools. Such a loss over the next 10 years will result in the loss of an estimated $3,850,000 in FTE funding from the state which will have to be made up from ad valorem taxes.
Jackson County currently ranks 55th of the 67 Florida counties in annual median income. In 2000, the average median income in Jackson County was $13,905; by 2015, this average median income was 17,916, an average yearly increase of $219.40. With the average median income for Florida residents at $39,446, Jackson County’s median income is in the bottom quartile ranking 55th out of 67.
Other numbers show a marked change in numbers affected by the decreasing population and work force. In the year 2000, 17.2 % of Jackson County’s citizens were below the poverty level. Fifteen years later, that number had increased to 22.1% of Jackson County citizens living below poverty level. This is quite a bit higher than the same census result statewide below poverty level---16.6%.
To sum up the trends in Jackson County: 1) The overall population is decreasing. 2) The student enrollment in county schools has dramatically decreased. This decrease has and will mean state funding is further decreased as enrollment drops. 4) There is a significantly decreased number of those in the work force. 5) The number of citizens at or below the poverty level (22.1%) is higher than the number of citizens statewide at the same level. 6) Vacant buildings and fewer businesses give testament to the fact that manufacturing and other businesses have left this area during the past two decades.
In an exclusive interview with the Times staff, Jackson County Commissioner Jim Peacock stated that he was aware of the lack of growth in Jackson County. However, he was astonished at the rate indicated by the figures showing that the county was not only NOT growing but was actually going backwards. He advised that it was time for leaders in the community to move forward from just talking about the situation to develop a definitive plan for action to address the need for a proactive, concerted action for desirable growth in Jackson County. In short, Commissioner Peacock feels that we must work together toward getting the county moving forward. He said, “It will take a combined effort by the cities and county working together to make this happen. We have many talented and savvy individuals throughout this county who have both the ideas and the expertise to help build a sound plan for successful strategies. I have been looking at Jackson County’s Comprehensive Plan and I believe it is anti-industry; revamping the plan would be a good start in beginning a serious move to attract new industry well-suited to our area.”