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Census: Metro populations grew, rural areas lost in Nebraska, Iowa

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 5:59 PM CDT
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(AP) - U.S. Census data released Thursday showed the population changes in Nebraska could shift more political power to both of its largest cities, while both Nebraska and Iowa showed decline in their rural populations.

Over the past decade, the Omaha and Lincoln areas saw big population gains over the last decade while most rural areas continued to decline. Iowa’s population grew in pockets around the state’s largest cities while 68 counties in rural areas also lost population.

The report on Nebraska shows that Sarpy County grew at the fastest rate in the state, 20%, between 2010 and 2020. The county, encompassing Omaha’s suburbs, had a population of 190,604 as of last year.

Douglas County gained the most overall residents, however, with a net increase of 67,416. The 13% increase brings the county’s total population to 584,526. The Omaha metro area, which includes surrounding counties, is now on pace to hit 1 million people by 2024, said David Drozd, research coordinator for the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research

Lancaster County also grew by 13%, from 285,407 in 2010 to 322,608 last year, according to the data.

Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties now account for 56% of Nebraska’s overall population, Drozd said. He said the gains will translate into an urban majority in the Nebraska Legislature, with big cities controlling an estimated 27 of the 49 seats.

Overall, 24 of Nebraska’s 93 counties gained at least some population. But the big three were the only ones that grew by more than 10%.

“That is quite a differential compared to all the other counties,” Drozd said.

Meanwhile, McPherson County in west-central Nebraska became the state’s least populated county, with 399 residents in 2020 after losing 140 people over the decade. Previously, the smallest county had been neighboring Arthur County, which has a new official population of 434.

Drozd said he was surprised more small Nebraska counties didn’t post at least modest growth, as often happens every decade. He said underreporting may be a factor, because many of the smaller counties had a lower response rate.

Statewide, Nebraska’s population increased by 7.4%, to 1,961,504.

In Iowa, the biggest population gainers were the counties around Des Moines in central Iowa, Cedar Rapids and Davenport in eastern Iowa, and Sioux City in the northwest.

The fastest-growing area in the state remained Dallas County, west of Des Moines, which grew 50.7% in the past decade to a population of 99,678 in 2020 from just over 66,000 in 2010.

The data shows four Iowa counties — Johnson, Polk, Warren, and Story — grew by more than 10% and 26 counties increased by less than 10%. The remaining 68 counties lost population.

Statewide, Iowa’s population increased by 4.7% to 3,190,369.

The least populous county is Adams County, in southwest Iowa, which has 3,704 people - a decline of 8.1 %, or 325 people, over the decade.

Polk County had the most people with 492,401, a 14.3% increase, or 61,761 people. It is also the most densely populated with 860.5 people per square mile.

Political impacts

Nebraska lawmakers will use the new data to redraw the state’s political boundaries, including legislative and congressional districts, in a special session scheduled for next month. On Thursday, several advocacy groups called on lawmakers to conduct the process in a transparent manner.

“When redistricting is fair, transparent and includes everyone, our maps are more likely to be representative and secure free, fair and responsive elections for the next decade,” said Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska.

Danielle Conrad, a former state senator who served on the 2011 redistricting committee, said it’s critical that lawmakers approach the process with the goal of creating districts that give equal influence to residents throughout the state.

“The maps Nebraska’s state senators develop this fall will shape our lives and communities for the next 10 years,” said Conrad, now the director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

Iowa lawmakers will use the new data to redraw the state’s political boundaries, a nonpartisan process that begins with the state’s Legislative Services Agency. State law requires a first draft of proposed maps within 45 days, followed by public hearings and a report to lawmakers.

“After months of unnecessary delays, the Census Bureau has finally provided the data Iowa needs to redistrict the state,” said Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, an Ankeny Republican. “I look forward to following the nationally recognized, nonpartisan process established (in Iowa law) to create congressional and legislative districts for the next decade.”

The release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 census comes more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the pandemic. The redistricting numbers states use for redrawing congressional and legislative districts show where white, Asian, Black and Hispanic communities grew over the past decade.

It also shows where populations have become older or younger and the number of people living in dorms, prisons and nursing homes. The data covers geographies as small as neighborhoods and as large as states. Another set of data released in April provided state population counts and showed the U.S. had 331 million residents last year, a 7.4% increase from 2010.

Minority populations

Nebraska’s Hispanic or Latino population grew by 40.2%, from 9.2% of the population in 2010 to 12%. The Black population grew from 4.5% of the population to 4.9%.

The white population in Nebraska in 2020 was 78.4% of the population, down from 86.1% in 2010.

The release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 census comes more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the pandemic. The redistricting numbers states use for redrawing congressional and legislative districts show where white, Asian, Black and Hispanic communities grew over the past decade.

It also shows where populations have become older or younger, and the number of people living in dorms, prisons and nursing homes. The data covers geographies as small as neighborhoods and as large as states. Another set of data released in April provided state population counts and showed the U.S. had 331 million residents last year, a 7.4% increase from 2010.

Iowa’s Hispanic or Latino population grew to 6.8% from 5% in 2010 and the Black population increased to 4.1% from 2.9%.

The white population in Iowa in 2020 was 82.7% of the population, down from 88.7% in 2010.

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