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State’s demographer studies raw data, then translates

The American Heritage dictionary defines demography as “the study of the characteristics of human populations, such as size, growth, density, distribution and vital statistics.”

The job of Mississippi’s demographer states (in part): “To calculate population for Mississippi and 82 counties… To work with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce intercensal population estimates for state and substate areas. To analyze census and survey data for policy implications.”

But when Dr. Barbara Logue talks about her work as Mississippi’s senior demographer, the dryness, the jargon, fall away and one is left with the practical and important nature of the work.

“I recently had a call from out of state,” Logue said. “A couple who wanted to open a ballet school and wanted to know about the population of five-year-old girls — they like to start them young. I was able to give them an approximation of that information and the trends in various counties.”

Another example of the practical application of Logue’s work to the Mississippi business community: “Resources are scarce so it’s important to know where the population is going. Is a city, a county, growing in population or declining? And what is the nature of a given community?

Businesses have an ideal population or demographic in mind — a target customer base — for, say a nursing home. A business wouldn’t want to build a nursing home next to a gym. Businesses have to be able to locate those population bases to open new locations or to locate in a new area.”

Logue works with raw data, a lot of it, and puts it into laymen’s terms so that people in various entities in the state can use it.

She likes demographic work and finds it interesting — but only after a shortage of jobs following college forced her to go to work for an insurance company.

In college, she planned to be an English teacher and that was her undergraduate degree. But it was difficult to find work at that time. She did locate a teaching job in one city, but moved to another city to get married and couldn’t get a teaching job.

So she ended up in an insurance company, and that is where she discovered demography. “Before that, I didn’t even know that the field existed.”

Logue returned to college and got her Ph.D. in demography from the University of Pennsylvania. Teaching and research at Brown University and the University of Oklahoma followed. She was at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles when the position of demographer in the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning’s Center for Research Policy and Planning became available.

“I’d always wanted to work in applied demography and that’s how I came to Mississippi in 1990.”

Logue said she liked teaching and working with students and that was all good. What wasn’t good was a combination of the pressure to get grant money as well as the traditional university pressure to “publish or perish.”

“I’ve seen young professors in universities almost have heart attacks over that kind of pressure.”

In the field of demography, Logue stressed the importance of births and what is to be expected in the future.

“The women Baby Boomers have mostly moved out of the age range for giving birth, from 15 to 49,” she said. “The Mississippi population is aging but so is the country’s population. And the world’s population, that is, in the industrialized world. For example, Japan’s population is aging faster than this country’s. Our population is aging, steadily but slowly.”

She said that Mississippi is close to the national average in aging.

“But the determination of population growth is not only about births and deaths but about in-migration and out-migration,” Logue emphasized.

Counties tend to go up and down, to fluctuate, but the state, as a whole, is suffering from and has, for a long time, suffered from out migration. The state has a net out migration. (The only exception is a period in the mid-1990s when casinos were expanding and hiring.)

“There’s a brain drain. Young people with bachelor degrees are going out of state, whether for more opportunities or better salaries,” she said

Logue characterized the people in the out migration as more intelligent, better educated, younger, more ambitious and healthier. She said that many who stay in the state are less well educated, not as ambitious, older and their health isn’t as good.

“Many lack computer skills, lack the ability to work in the newly-developing fields of electronics.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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