Census data shows Dooly County leading statewide population decline
There is a palpable sense of desperation in Dooly County, and you can see why when you look at the latest census results.
UNADILLA, Georgia — The 2020 census will mean more money for places that have grown in population, like Houston County, but four of the five counties that have lost significant population are in central Georgia.
“Companies don’t stay here long, it’s difficult,” said Salathiel Turner.
There is a palpable sense of desperation in Dooly County, and you can see why when you look at the latest census results. The 400 square mile area has lost a quarter of its population over the past 10 years.
They numbered about 15,000 in 2010 and just over 3,700 died or left. That’s a lot to manage for a small town.
At the Bobcat Zone hair salon, you can get your hair cut for $20. Turner is from Dooly County; he has 30 years in the business with a stable clientele, but few young men show up.
“When I was growing up, we had hobbies and lots of different things, but now the kids don’t have much to do here. Now companies don’t stay here long,” Turner said.
Dooly has an aging population – 21% are 65 or older. The county also faces 27% of its population living in poverty – the median household income is $37,000.
“I’m not saying it’s ugly; we are just a poor country. We don’t have the means and we don’t have the tax base and we’ll never get the Toyo tire industry and we’ll never get Amazon to come here,” Myron Mixon said.
Mixon is a five-time world champion on the barbecue scene. He’s a celebrity and he’s also the mayor of Unadilla. He says with the new numbers, they’ve cut all the pork out of the budget. Even with the exodus, the towns of Dooly still have to pay for fire trucks, roads and schools. To keep things moving, they depend on Uncle Sam.
“Where it really hurts you is in your federal grants. All of these grant programs are based on your census,” Mixon said. “We don’t spend anything until we see how everything goes.”
And here’s another thing to think about – churches rarely get help from the federal government. They depend on donations.
Bobby West is the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. He says he has about 140 people at his Sunday service.
“Just looking at the numbers, there’s no people to tap into,” West said. “If I had to rely on people who live right here, this church would be in trouble.”
“The sad thing is when you see a church closing that breaks my heart,” Mixon said. “And those little churches disappeared…they only left the cemeteries.”
There are no easy answers. West and his church hope to attract new members through social media. As for Mixon and Unadilla?
“Our only hope and savior is to be a bedroom community in thriving Houston County,” he said.
Other declining central Georgia counties include Telfair County, with just over 24% of the county’s population gone in the last decade, and Macon and Pulaski counties.
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