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POPULATION UP FROM 1990 BUT DOWN FROM 1995

July 2, 2001 – The population of the Virgin Islands has grown 7 percent since 1990, with the most dramatic increase — 20 percent — on St. John, according to recently released Census 2000 data. However, the 2000 total reflects a decrease of 1,065 residents territory-wide — all attributable to St. Thomas — since 1995, the last time data were collected.
The overall U.S. Bureau of the Census count for 2000 was 108,612, compared to 101,809 in 1990. The V.I. Census Data Center, located within the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands, estimated the 1995 population at 109,677.
Frank Mills, director of the Census Data Center, attributed the downward population shift on St. Thomas to the "destructive" hurricanes in 1995 (Luis and Marilyn), 1996 (Bertha) and 1998 (Georges), which had a "negative impact on the economy."
The 1995 USVI Statistical Yearbook showed St. Thomas with a population of 54,259. In the 2000 edition, the population is shown as 51,181. The 1990 Census data showed the island having a population of 48,166, making for a net gain of 6 percent over the 10-year period.
The only island showing a decrease in population in the Census 2000 data from a decade earlier was Water Island, recorded a drop of 11 people.
St. Croix's population was placed at 53,234 for 2000, up from 50,139 in 1990 and 51,389 in 1995.
St. John's was recorded as 4,197 for 2000, up from 3,504 in 1990 and 4,030 in 1995.
Out-migration from town centers
On both St. Thomas and St. Croix, the 2000 data show that people have migrated in large numbers from the town areas into the "country." Despite the overall territorial increase of 6,803 people, the populations of the towns and surrounding town areas, except for Christiansted, all have dropped in the last decade:
– In the Christiansted subdistrict, the population slipped from 3,199 in 1990 to 2,865. However, in Christiansted town, it rose slightly, by 82 people.
– In Charlotte Amalie town, the population decreased from 12,331 to 11,004. In the surrounding subdistrict area, it decreased from 20,589 in 1990 to 18,914 in 2000.
– In Frederiksted town, the population shrank by 31 percent, from 1,064 to 732. In the subdistrict of Frederiksted, it decreased from 4,066 to 3,767.
St. Croix Chamber of Commerce President Carmelo Rivera attributed the shift from town to county in part to Hurricane Hugo damage that was never repaired. But he said he has mixed feelings about the data in general.
"I can understand the movement out of the towns," he said. "They are dilapidated; urban decay has set in." Plus, he noted, "most of the low-income housing" has been built outside the town areas.
Rivera said he thought the overall increase in population since 1990 might be due to better data collection for 2000. "Remember the last census was taken right after Hugo," which struck in September 1989, he said.
Expressing concerned about properties that were never repaired after the storm devastated St. Croix especially, he said the order should have been "Fix it or lose it."
St. Croix's East End population rose by 35 percent, more than twice the rate of increase for any other area on the island. The next-largest increase was in the Anna's Hope Village subdistrict, where the population increased by 529 people, or 14 percent.
Mills agreed with Rivera's take on the exodus from urban areas, adding that virtually no new construction has taken place in the towns. He also said the outward migration should "send a signal to the planners" that the infrastructure outside the urban areas needs to be upgraded to meet the demand for better roads, more reliable electricity and fire services.
Where has everybody gone?
On St. Thomas, migration went in all directions, with the greatest increase occurring in the West End, where the population increased by 736 people or 56 percent.
Ira Hobson, commissioner of Housing, Parks and Recreation, said the Housing and Finance Authority has built 30 to 40 new homes in Bordeaux over the last 10 years, and this could account for part of the migration.
The North Side of St. Thomas grew from 6,404 to 8,712, or 36 percent, according to the data, and the East End population increased from 5,927 to 7,672, or 29 percent.
John deJongh, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said, "I don't know what these statistics mean in terms of a trend. Once we have more information, we can begin to analyze the numbers."
On St. John, which is two-thirds V.I. National Park land and therefore has limited development options, the population increase was most dramatic in Coral Bay. The number of people inhabiting the sleepy, remote community on island's east end rose by 79 percent — from 363 in 1990 to 649 in 2000.
To St. John Administrator Julien Harley, it's believable. "You can see it when you go to Coral Bay — new homes on the sides of the hills," he said. Harley attributes the growth to new people coming to St. John. In fact, pondering the overall figure of 4,197 for 2000, he said, "I though we had more people than that."
Harley doesn't think the number includes most of the high-end villa owners who are part-time residents. "If you counted all of them, it would go up another 200 to 300," he said.
In order to have been counted as a resident, Mills said, "you would have had to live here for six months of the year."
Age is a factor worth considering
One crucial aspect of the territory's population not addressed in the initial data released by Government House Monday, Mills said, is "What's happening to the aging of the population?" He predicted that in the next round of statistics, "What we are going to see is we are aging as a population."
Mills said this is typical in a community where the population is increased more by the in-migration of adults than by births. In such cases, he said, the number of elderly persons increases at a much faster rate than otherwise. "It should be obvious that medical and other services for the elderly need attention," he said.
The growing elderly population coupled with a declining birth rate, which started in 1998 and has continued, could spell trouble for the Virgin Islands, Mills said. He explained that when the birth rate drops below 2.2 babies per female in a population, unless there is "an inflow of people from the outside, you won't be able to maintain yourselves."
Thus, an increase in immigration is needed to offset a low birth rate, he said, adding, "And you cannot treat them as though they are not welcome."
In the mid-20th century, the population picture was markedly different for the territory. The 1940 Census showed just 24,889 residents. A decade later, the number had risen to 26,665. But then the development of tourism, the construction of the Hess oil refinery on St. Croix and the influx of new residents from throughout the Eastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland kicked in. From 1960 to 1970, the population nearly doubled, from 32,099 to 62,468. In the next 10 years, it increased as much again, to 96,569 in 1980. Since then, it has fluctuated relatively little up and down, reaching a high of 110,800 in 1985.
Mills said as the federal Census 2000 data continue to reach the territory, statistics will be broken down from subdistricts to blocks. "It will be very interesting," he said.

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