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Wisconsinites flock to metropolitan areas, leave rural areas behind


MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Just over a quarter of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have been losing population since 2000 – and it’s raising new concerns about their futures.

Nineteen counties have declines in residents, and most are in rural areas.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism says it’s a relatively new phenomenon, because only Milwaukee County lost residents during the 1990’s. And Wisconsin as a whole showed a six-percent population increase in the 2000’s, indicating that larger and growing areas benefited the most.

Experts say it poses major problems both now and in the future. That’s because many of the departing residents are younger workers. They’re leaving fewer employees behind to help provide the tax base for the services that people need.

Iron County is feeling the squeeze the hardest. It lost 14% of its population since 2000 – and it’s the oldest county in the state, with a median age of 51.

Less than half of all Iron County residents older than 16 were in the workforce in 2010. That’s much lower than the statewide average of 69%.

Officials supported the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine earlier this year to bring jobs to the region – and they plan to support it next year when a new bill is introduced in Madison.

Hurley’s mayor says something needs to keep the economy going – and tourism dollars are not steady enough.  Critics fear a possible loss of visitors. UW Madison sociologist Gary Green says it’s a common dilemma in which tourists want nature – and no factories nearby.