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Shrinking Central Georgia: Census data shows Dooly County leads in population decline statewide

There is a palpable sense of despair in Dooly County, and you can see why when you look at the latest Census results.

UNADILLA, Ga. — The 2020 Census will mean more money for places that grew in population, like Houston County, but four of the five counties that lost a significant part of their population are in Central Georgia.

“Businesses just don’t stay here long, it’s hard,” said Salathiel Turner.

There is a palpable sense of despair in Dooly County, and you can see why when you look at the latest Census results. The 400-square-mile area lost a quarter of its population over the last 10 years.

They had about 15,000 people in 2010 and just over 3,700 died or walked away. It’s a lot for a small town to handle.

At the Bobcat Zone barber shop, you can get a haircut for $20. Turner is a native of Dooly County; he has 30 years in the business with a steady clientele, but not a lot of younger guys walk in the door.

“When I was growing up, we had recreation and a lot of different things, but now kids don't have that much to do around here. Now, the businesses don't stay here long,” said Turner.

Dooly does have an aging population – 21% are 65 or older. The county’s also dealing with 27% of its population living in poverty – the median household income is $37,000.

“I'm not saying this ugly; we just are a poor county. We don't have the means and we don't have the tax base and we're never going to get the Toyo tire industry and we're never going to get Amazon to come here,” said Myron Mixon.

Mixon is a five-time world champion on the barbeque stage. He’s a celebrity and he’s also the mayor of Unadilla. He says with the new numbers, they’ve cut all the pork out of the budget. Even with the exodus, towns in Dooly still must pay for fire trucks, roads, and schools. To keep things in motion, they depend on Uncle Sam.

“Where it really hurts you is in your federal grants. All of these grant programs come down based on your census,” said Mixon. “We're not spending anything until we see how it all shakes out.”

And here’s another thing to think about – churches rarely get help from the federal government. They depend on donations.

Bobby West is the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. He says he’s got about 140 folks at his Sunday service.

“Just looking at the numbers, there are not people to draw from,” said West. “If I had to rely on people that just live here, this church would be in trouble.”

“The sad thing is when you see a church close that breaks my heart,” said Mixon. “And those little churches are gone... they left nothing but the cemeteries.”

There are no easy answers. West and his church hope to attract new members through social media. As for Mixon and Unadilla?

“Our only hope and savior is to be a bedroom community to Houston County, which is booming,” he said.

The other shrinking counties in Central Georgia include Telfair County, with just over 24% of the county’s population gone in the last decade, and Macon and Pulaski counties.

RELATED: 'We could actually have nowhere to go': Rising Georgia rent costs putting affordable housing out of reach

RELATED: Houston County sees 15% population boom from 2010 to 2020

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