Oconee County added 563 residents from July 2021 to July 2022, according to the March 30 release by the U.S. Census Bureau of what it terms its Vintage estimates of population change.
That 563 is a little more than half the 1,102 estimated increase in the county’s population from July 1 of 2020 and July 1 of 2021.
Going back to the 2010 Census, the 563 added residents in this most recent estimate is the smallest number of added new residents in Oconee County since 2013, when that same number was added.
And the 563 is less the number added in all but two of the seven counties that Oconee County borders.
Jackson County added 3,619 new residents from July 1 of 2021 to July 1 of 2022, Walton County added 3,257, and Barrow County added 2,627.
Clarke County added 690 new residents and Greene County added 586. Only Morgan County, with 377, and Oglethorpe County, with 327, added fewer new residents than did Oconee.
The Census Bureau estimates, widely used in planning for growth, are based on the counts from the 2020 Census and data on births, deaths, and migration.
The 2020 Census count for Oconee County was 41,799, and the 2022 estimated population is 43,588.
Change in population year to year is most often discussed in terms of growth rates.
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The growth rate for Oconee County from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, was 1.3 percent, compared with 2.4 percent the year before and 4.3 percent the year before that.
The 1.3 percent growth rate this past year for Oconee County is the lowest since 2012.
Growth rates can be misleading, however, because the base keeps changing, meaning the number of added residents has to increase each year to keep the growth rate steady.
It also makes comparisons with the other counties surrounding Oconee problematic, since they have different population bases.
The 563 added residents for Oconee County is a growth rate of 1.3 percent, but the 690 added residents in Clarke County is a growth rate of only 0.5 percent because the population of Clarke County in 2021 was 129,185, compared with Oconee County’s 2021 population of 43,025.
Only Clarke County’s growth rate this last year is smaller than Oconee’s in the cluster of seven counties that Oconee County touches.
Jackson County had a growth rate of 4.3 percent, Walton County had a growth rate of 3.2 percent, and Barrow and Greene Counties had a growth rate of 2.9 percent.
The state of Georgia had a growth rate of 1.2 percent, adding 124,847 new residents, for a new population estimate of 10,912,876.
Basis Of Estimates
According to the Census Bureau, Oconee County had 341 births from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, and 357 deaths, or a loss of 16 residents.
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Oconee County gained 610 residents by migration to the county and lost 31 by movement out of the county, for a gain of 579.
The 579 for migration is offset by the 16 loss (deaths over births), for 563 new residents.
From July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021 the county recorded 341 births, according to the Census bureau, and 355 deaths, for a loss of 14 residents.
The county gained 1,039 residents by migration to the county and lost 13 by movement out of the county, for a gain of 1,026.
That 1,026 gain was offset by the 14 loss (deaths over births), for 1,012.
The difference between the population gain in 2021 and the lesser gain in 2022 is largely due to decreased migration to the county accompanied by slightly increased movement out of the county.
The Census Bureau uses state and federal data from the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare enrollment, the Social Security Administration, and other sources to make these estimates.
Use Of Vintage Estimates
According to the Census Bureau, the Vintage population estimates are used for federal funding allocations, for community development, to aid business planning, and as denominators for statistical rates, among many other things.
The average absolute difference between the final total resident population estimates for 2020 and 2020 Census counts was only about 2.9 percent across all counties in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.
In Oconee County the difference between the July 1, 2019, population estimate and the July 1, 2020, estimate was 1,733, or a growth of 4.3 percent, suggesting that the July 1, 2019, estimate likely was low for whatever reason.
Locally, population estimates are part of discussion both by county and Oconee County Schools leaders.
At the State of the County address last month, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell noted that residential building permits in Oconee County were lower in Fiscal Year 2021 and Fiscal Year 2022 and lower in the last four years than in the six year preceding them.
The permits the last two years are just below what Daniell called a “sweet spot” of about 200 to 250 permits per year.
“That gives us enough growth that the school system can adapt as well as we can adapt too to the infrastructure that’s needed.”
Daniell noted that the county is not issuing any new residential sewage permits as one way of restricting residential growth. The county also has increased minimum lot size from 0.7 to 1.5 acres.
Both of these policies restrict residential growth.
School Board Planning
Oconee County Schools is engaged in an aggressive building program that will increase the capacity of all but one of its elementary schools to 750 and add a third middle school, all three with a capacity of 1,000 students.
It also will begin discussion of adding a third high school or increasing the capacity of the two existing high schools from 1,500 students to 2,000.
It also is building a new administrative building.
School Superintendent Jason Branch has said this is necessary to address growth in school enrollments resulting from rapid population growth in the county.
Enrollment grew by 1.3 percent last year across all of the 11 Oconee County schools combined, and the rate of growth has averaged 1.6 percent over the last four years.