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A Changing Nebraska: By 2050, Nebraska will be more urban

In addition to our usual statewide data on the well-being of children in Nebraska, this year’s Kids Count in Nebraska Report featured a commentary on Changing Demographics in our state and the anticipated impact these changes will have on Nebraska’s kids. Today’s post in the fourth in the blog series on that commentary. Our first post investigated what Nebraska currently looks like and expected changes in the overall population. From there we dove in to the sections of the commentary, investigating how Nebraska will be older and more diverse. The next topic is the state becoming increasingly urban.

While we do not have population projections on this topic, we do not have reason to believe that current trends will shift significantly in the coming years. Nebraska’s counties easily fit into 5 different categories:

  • The “Big 3” counties: Douglas, Sarpy, Lancaster
  • 10 other metropolitan counties: Cass, Saunders, Washington, Seward, Dakota, Dixon, Hall, Merrick, Howard, Hamilton
  • 9 micropolitan counties: Dodge, Platte, Madison, Gage, Adams, Buffalo, Dawson, Lincoln, Scotts Bluff
  • 20 nonmetropolitan counties that have a city between 2,500-9,999 residents
  • 51 nonmetropolitan counties that do not have a city >2,500 residents

Since 1950, the population in each county classification has significantly changed, with the “Big 3” counties growing and reaching more than 50% of Nebraska’s population in 2003 while the 51 most rural counties have experienced population declines.

Based on the age structure of these most rural counties, the population size is expected to continue to decrease while the population of Nebraska’s urban counties is expected to increase. Our urban counties have large portions of the population being 20-35 year olds, this is particularly important since this is the age most people start a family. Conversely, the rural counties in Nebraska have their largest population share in those who are 45-65 years old. Most of their children have moved away for college to the cities and not returned. This population will continue to age with very few young people present.

With many non-metro counties losing population, many have also experienced a drop in people with higher education since many with higher education and training have left rural areas for larger cities and metropolitan areas – known as Brain Drain. This can lead to lower earnings in the county, which in turn can lead to increases in poverty. This aging population also means that fewer tax dollars will be available in these counties since a large portion of the population will be retired. Fewer tax dollars means decreased ability to invest in education and social services and public assistance programs. Additionally, as population decreases, it becomes increasingly difficult to access needed services. This could potentially diminish the ability of families to meet their basic needs and provide for their children.

Voices for Children recommends that policy be changed to incentivize job development in rural communities. The state should partner with state universities and community colleges to increase financial incentives for trained workers in high-need professions who agree to work in rural communities.

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