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South Bend Population Keeps Reversing Past Declines Jeff Parrott, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The city’s population in July grew slightly from the prior year, marking the fifth consecutive year of gains, according to annual population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Continuing a consistent pattern, the city’s population grew from 102,022 on July 1, 2016, to 102,245 on July 1, 2017, an increase of 223 residents, or about 0.22 percent. Over the past five years, the city added 1,261 residents, for an average annual increase of about 252 people, according to the estimates.

Compared to some other Indiana cities, South Bend’s yearly population gains have been modest, amounting to a combined 1 percent increase from 2012 to 2017. Fort Wayne, the nearest comparably sized Indiana city, tripled South Bend’s growth rate, its population increasing from 257,416 in 2012 to 265,904 in 2017, or 3 percent.

Indianapolis’ population also grew by 3 percent from 2012 to 2017, while Mishawaka’s population grew 2 percent.

Carmel’s population jumped 10 percent, while Elkhart’s was up 1 percent.

But compared to a decade earlier, South Bend completely reversed its course. From 2002 to 2007, the city’s population declined each year, falling from 106,279 in 2002 to 102,911 in 2007. That was a 3.2 percent drop over that five-year span, averaging 674 residents per year.

“You have to remember that it was not that long ago when we were still losing population,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “In the ’70s and ’80s we lost a quarter of our population, so it’s very encouraging to be growing at all.”

Buttigieg said the new numbers offer more evidence of growing demand for all types of housing in the city.

“It certainly matches what we’ve seen anecdotally, which is increased demand for living in the city and in particular, the heart of the city,” he said.

South Bend Common Council President Tim Scott called the new figures “a good thing.”

“I think it shows that a lot of people are excited about moving back into the city,” Scott said. “The new urbanism is crucial and people are living and breathing it. I have friends around Granger who are driving 40 minutes to drop their kids off. I think people are looking at that in new ways.”

Scott said the numbers also reflect more job growth in the city, since people want to live closer to where they work and play.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but it’s great to see positive numbers for another Rust Belt Great Lakes city,” Scott said.

Unlike the actual head count that the Census Bureau takes each decade, the federal agency calculates the July 1 estimates by adjusting the decennial count for annual births, deaths, migration and housing unit data. The estimates are used for federal funding allocations, as controls for major Census Bureau surveys, for community development, and as aids in business planning.

Nationally, the annual estimates made for July 1, 2010, using the 2000 Census count as the base, came within 3.1 percent, on average, of the actual 2010 Census counts, according to the Census Bureau.

While developers continue adding apartments and condos downtown, another factor driving the city’s population growth, Buttigieg said, has been Hispanic migration to the region. So he’s worried about a Trump administration policy to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionaire.

Many mayors fear that the question will deter illegal immigrants from filling out the questionaire, resulting in an undercount that will reduce federal funding to cities for a wide range of needs.

“We’re following that with great concerns,” Buttigieg said.

On June 8, Buttigieg will attend a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Boston, where he expects the citizenship question to be a hot topic. But he noted the Census Bureau falls under the Secretary of Commerce, a presidential Cabinet, so he isn’t sure whether Congress will be able to stop the change.