Lake County could lose its longstanding spot as the second most populous county in Indiana by 2050, according to a new report by the Indiana Business Research Center.
Matt Kinghorn, senior demographic analyst for Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University Kelley School of Business, forecasts that Lake County will be the only one of Indiana's 12 biggest counties to lose population between now and 2050.
Kinghorn said the projection was based on current population trends and didn't take into account efforts to stabilize or reverse population loss, such as efforts to expand and speed up the South Shore Line and position Northwest Indiana as more of a bedroom community to Chicago.
He predicts that Hamilton County, a fast-growing suburban county northeast of Indianapolis, will overtake Allen County, and then Lake County, to become Indiana's second most populous county with about 528,000 residents in 2050.
Lake County's population is projected to shrink to 473,381 by 2050, down from 487,649 in 2015, while the affluent suburbs of Carmel and Fishers in central Indiana continue to lure new families.
Kinghorn said the projection was based largely on Lake County's loss of about 10,000 residents between 2010 and 2016, which followed a period of growth during the 2000s.
"It all goes back to the Great Recession in Lake County," he said. "The population loss will have ripple effects because it means there are fewer people of childbearing age and there will be fewer births. Then there's the same issue with the baby boomers you see around the rest of the state and country. The deaths over the next two or three decades will lead to a lot slower population growth."
LaPorte County also is projected to shed population, dropping from 110,762 residents in 2015 to 105,318 according to the Indiana Business Research Center data.
The Gary metropolitan area as a whole — Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties — is projected to grow by 717,000 by 2050, up from 702,783 in 2015.
Porter County in particular is expected to see strong growth to 193,875 residents in 2050, as compared to 167,631 residents in 2015.
"Porter has certainly benefited from more in-migration than Lake or LaPorte counties," Kinghorn said. "It shares a lot of characteristics with the suburban growth counties in Central Indiana."
The Indianapolis metro is expected to drive much of the state's population growth over the next few decades, Kinghorn said.
The state is expected to gain 660,000 residents over the next 35 years, a 10 percent increase. If current trends hold true, the Hoosier state would have 7.27 million residents by 2050.
"Central Indiana will be the engine of growth in the state, and you'll also see faster growth in some areas like Lafayette and Bloomington," he said. "There's a lot of geographic variation, and some counties will lose population."