Population growth strongest in some Nebraska suburban and rural counties

By: - June 12, 2023 5:15 am

Pew compares Census Bureau population estimates for states, mid-2021 to mid-2022. (Courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts)

OMAHA — While Nebraska overall saw a slight population bump, 51 of the state’s counties lost residents between mid-2021 and mid-2022, according to a new census analysis by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.

Among the fastest-growing were suburban areas around the state’s core metropolitan counties.

Population growth in region, mid-2021 to mid-2022

South Dakota: 1.5%

Colorado: 0.49%

Wyoming: 0.33%

Nebraska: 0.22%

Missouri: 0.13%

Iowa: 0.09%

Kansas: (-0.03%)

50-state median: 0.19%

(Pew Charitable Trusts, Census Bureau)

Sarpy and Saunders Counties both grew by about 1.4% — outperforming the 0.1% that same year of mega neighbor Douglas.

Lancaster County, another population center, clocked in with a smaller 0.4% growth, compared to bordering Otoe County’s 1.2%.

Such patterns, said CPAR director Josie Schafer, who reviewed the latest census figures and assembled maps, reflect a national trend of bedroom communities picking up people after COVID-19 struck. CPAR is the designated State Data Center for Nebraska.

Especially as remote and hybrid work schedules became more accepted, she noted, many people have opted to move farther from urban centers and population clusters.

The census report also showed some of the strongest annual population growth in a handful of smaller, more rural Nebraska counties, including Frontier, Deuel, Greeley and Dawes.

Translation: “A little bit more stability in rural counties,” said Schafer.

Indeed, the analysis showed Frontier coming on strong as the frontrunner of the state’s growing counties after an 8.6% decline between 2010 and 2020. 

Frontier is home to the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, which has noted plans to expand from about 300 to 500 students within the decade. The campus, in the town of Curtis, also is poised to get a new $12 million student and community center.

During the decade of 2010-2020, Schafer said that 68 of Nebraska’s 93 counties saw their population decline (compared to 51 during the year between July 2021 and July 2022).

2021-2022 population growth estimates by county in Nebraska based on latest U.S. Census release (Courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research)

The county-level population information for July 2021 to July 2022 followed statewide estimates from the Census Bureau. The updates take into account the official 2020 decennial counts and then use additional statistical processes and projections.

Nebraska’s latest population estimate of 1,967,923 represents an increase of 0.22% —  just above the 50-state median of 0.19%. 

At that rate, Nebraska topped percentage gains in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas (the Hawkeye state actually saw a dip).

Nebraska’s statewide growth rate fell short of the rate in bordering states of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. South Dakota was among the country’s top performers.

Eighteen states lost population over that year.

The latest population data comes also as states nationwide, including Nebraska, grapple with workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic and demographic shifts that include relatively fewer young people to fill jobs.

Population growth is key because it can spur a state’s economic activity via labor availability and tax paying residents that help cover costs for public services and amenities such as education and infrastructure.

Size factors into how much a state receives from federal grants, and economic development energy is often cited as a reason talent moves to an area.

According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report on national results, Florida was the fastest-growing state for the first time since the 1950s, expanding by 1.9% between mid-2021 and mid-2022.

Total U.S. population grew twice as fast during that time frame compared to the prior year, when states felt the brunt of the pandemic. Pew researchers said population growth nationally began to rebound last year as births spiked and COVID restrictions loosened, allowing more steady flow across borders.

Yet overall, Pew reported that nearly 1 in 5 states lost residents in 2022, and growth nationally was slower than the already sluggish pace over the preceding decade.


2010-2020 population growth in Nebraska, by county, based on U.S. Census surveys (Courtesy of UNO Center for Public Affairs Research)


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.