Rural Pee Dee counties watch population decline over last decade

News13 Investigates

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — In Horry County, there are new homes, roads and faces moving in to make the Myrtle Beach area home.

That’s reflected in the latest census count, which says Horry County grew 30.4% from 2010 to 2020 — the fastest growing out of both Carolinas.

But there’s a different story going on in many rural counties.

“There’s a real bifurcation and a real division in the country between those counties that are growing and those that counties that have lost population since 2010,” senior demographer at US Census Bureau Marc Perry said. “So it was actually a slight majority of counties that lost people this decade, which was a large shift.”

That division is visible right in the News13 area, in the Pee Dee and Border Belt.

Darlington and Marlboro counties each lost about 8% of their populations over the 10 year period. Marion and Dillon counties each lost about 12% and Robeson County lost about 13%.

“Over the last decade, we have slightly fewer births each year and slightly more deaths each year,” Perry explained. “A whole lot of rural counties don’t get a lot of migration at all — and once you sort of take part of that equation out, a county is going from slight gain to slight loss.”

Perry added that for many rural areas, it’s hard to maintain young people.

“They leave for the military or for college,” he said.

For Jaydon Deese of Pembroke, it was the first option.

“It was an eye opener,” Deese said about moving to Colorado for the military. “People always make fun of me because I see tall buildings or something I’m like oh my God look at that.”

After growing up in Robeson County, Deese enjoys being near a big city like Denver.

“Being able to walk around and hear live music and everything every night is nice,” he said. “One thing I do miss about Robeson County is you can drive down the road and see your uncle or cousin.”

That’s what Jessie Spivey loves about Lake View, where he’s lived most of his life. He wants to see the town grow, and is starting a new business, despite others heading out.

“Probably I would say 80% of my graduating class are no longer here,” he said. “They move because there aren’t a lot of jobs here. It’s a small town. And there’s just not a lot of opportunity to make a lot of decent money here.”

Marleen Lane owns multiple businesses in Dillon County. She said she knows many people who have left the area, and believes many leave because of crime concerns.

“There’s quite a bit of people that I grew up with, a lot of them have moved to the beach,” she said. “Because there’s more to offer there, more to offer for your family.”

People moving out can impact the bottom line.

“Anytime you start losing people in the population, you start losing tax dollars which is how we operate,” Dillon County Councilman Jamal Campbell said. “What I’m really battling in my mind is how we really lost 10%, or people have not taken it serious as far as filling out these census forms.”

Meanwhile, some communities like Nichols and Lake View have noticed renewed interest since the census was taken last year.

“We’ve noticed there have been several properties sold — people are moving into the area,” Lake View mayor Dennis Townsend. “A lot of it is people moving from up north. I really see Lake View starting to grow.”

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