Lake County saw the state's largest population decline in 2012, while Porter County experienced just a fraction of the growth it has seen in the past decade, U.S. Census estimates released Thursday show.
Those population trends continue to illustrate a slow state and national economic recovery and a higher-than-average unemployment rate in the extreme northwest corner of Indiana, said local and state economists.
Indiana's overall population growth was paltry in 2012, with less than a 1 percent increase. It also marked the sixth straight year that Indiana's population growth rate declined, analysis from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business shows.
But while much of the rest of the state experienced growth, Lake County lost 1,535 residents in 2012, more than any other Indiana county. Lake was among 54 of the state's 92 counties to lose population.
The next largest population decline came in Madison County, which lost 741 residents, census estimates show.
Porter County was counted among those to add population in 2012, gaining 108 residents, said Matt Kinghorn, a demographer with the Kelley School of Business.
But that growth was anemic compared to about 1,700 residents per year Porter gained between 2000 and 2010, Kinghorn said.
Much of the trend reflects the continued slow economic recovery from the major recession of the past few years, he said.
"With a few notable exceptions, population growth is proving to be the ultimate lagging indicated in our steady — yet slow — economic recovery," Kinghorn said.
Micah Polluk, assistant business professor at Indiana University Northwest, said much of Lake County's population loss likely can be attributed to an unemployment rate that has hovered at about 10 percent since 2009.
Indiana as a whole has seen recent unemployment rates of about 8.5 percent, Polluk said.
"The economy has been bad, and as people have lost their jobs in Lake County, we see them moving to new jobs elsewhere," Polluk said.
He also said the IUN campus in Gary has seen a trend among students who have moved out of Lake County — often to Porter, Jasper or Newton counties — but continue to commute back to IUN for their college education.