Nebraska towns: big get bigger, small get smaller

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June 30, 2009 - 7:00pm

Host Intro: Even though Nebraska gained population last year, most towns in the state were shrinking. Specific notes by UNL Demographer David Drozd are as follows:

1a. From 2000 to 2008, more than 8 in 10 Nebraska incorporated cities/towns lost population (427 of 530 or 80.6 percent). 92 cities/towns grew (17.4 percent) while the rest (11 cities/towns - 2.1 percent) showed no change. Nebraska had its strongest population growth in a dozen years between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2008, and that helped improve these figures slightly from the now updated 2000-07 figures, which showed 88 places gaining and 435 losing population.

1b. In the one-year period from 2007-2008, 115 communities grew while 341 lost population with 74 remaining at the same level. The 115 growers was the second highest number of growers when compared to all other one-year periods since 2000. In addition, the 341 losing population was the lowest number for any one-year period since 2000. (See chart below) This again shows the relative strength in Nebraska's population gains in 2007-08.

As discussed in prior reports, these gains are driven by a relatively high natural change where birth are exceeding deaths (Nebraska births are at 25 year highs) and by a relatively better net migration with other states (net loss of only 1,500 in 07-08 versus an average loss of 5,000 in other post-2000 years). As driven by the economy, fewer Nebraskans are leaving the state for typical destinations (Arizona, Florida) and more people are coming to Nebraska from states we usually lose people to (Michigan, Pennsylvania).

2a. These data show for the first time an official estimated population for Omaha after the annexation of Elkhorn on March 1, 2007. The new boundary files were not yet processed by the Census Bureau for last year's release of 2007 data. As of July 1, 2008 Omaha (after the annexation) had an estimated population of 438,646 residents. This value was in line with my pre-report expectation/estimate of 438,000 residents.

2b. The data also confirmed a pre-report prediction that the city of Omaha would leap above the cities of Cleveland, Ohio and Virginia Beach, Virginia to become the 40th largest city in the United States. [Cleveland and Virginia Beach had been losing population in recent years while Omaha had been growing every year, and these combined factors propelled Omaha's population to now be higher than the population in those cities the mentioned population change trends continued in this most recent 2008 data.] This comparison is for city limit boundaries only and should not be confused with better measures of integrated areas called metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) or more-simply: metro areas. The Cleveland and Virginia Beach metros would be much larger than Omaha, ranking as the 26th and 35th largest metros in the U.S., while the Omaha metro was 60th largest in 2008 [it was also ranked 60th largest in 2000]. However, for the geographic unit defined as "the city" or "within the city limits" Omaha is now 40th largest after being 44th biggest in Census 2000 (Omaha also passed the cities of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oakland, California in prior years).

Looking at the new numbers, I predict that Omaha will remain as the 40th largest for the next several years as the next largest city (Kansas City, MO) is about 13,000 persons larger than Omaha and is growing a couple thousand persons per year. Omaha has been having a larger yearly growth of around 5,000 persons per year but that means it would take several years of similar patterns to attain the same population level as KC, MO. As mentioned above, Cleveland and Virginia Beach have been losing population in recent years and that is expected to continue given economic factors and then there is a large drop off to the next city, Miami, FL, whose city limits contain about 413,000 persons. Again, metropolitan areas are a much different story, where the Miami metro is much larger, 7th largest in the U.S.

2c. Omaha's one-year growth of 5,855 persons between 2007 and 2008 was the largest one-year growth it has had so far this decade, besting the estimated 5,553 growth during 2004-05.

3a. The city of Lincoln reached a milestone in 2008, surpassing the 250,000 person level for the first time in its history, now with an estimated population of 251,624. I expected the data to show this milestone being achieved and the figure came in very close to my pre-report guess of 251,500

3b. Lincoln also continues to improve its ranking regarding city size. Lincoln is now the 72nd largest city in the country, having surpassed Fort Wayne, Indiana in the past year. Lincoln was the 75th largest city in Census 2000. Unlike Omaha, Lincoln has also increased its ranking for metropolitan area size, now being the 155th largest metro after being 160th in 2000.

3c. While Lincoln's one-year growth of 3,456 persons between 2007 and 2008 was strong, it was not the largest one year change so far this decade (unlike Omaha). Lincoln's estimates show it grew by 3,727 during 2002-03.

4. When compared to 273 places across the U.S. that had 100,000 or more persons in 2008, Lincoln and Omaha both rank in the top 100 regarding percent change over both the 2000-08 and 2007-08 timeframes. Tables prepared by the Census Bureau show Lincoln ranks 86th and 85th respectively while Omaha grew at the 100th fastest pace between 2000 and 2008, and ranked relatively higher as 92nd fastest between 2007 and 2008. [Note: in this analysis, the Bureau utilized the 2000 estimates base, which includes the effects of annexation; thus, these calculations represent population change only via births minus deaths and net migration in the original city limits as well as the annexed area, but they do not incorporate population increases due to the annexation of additional territory itself. Hence, the rankings could be different if analyzed using the Census 2000 official count rather than the estimates base. The Bureau used the estimates base to help accommodate areas did not "exist" then relative to the way that they are defined today (e.g. Louisville, KY).]

5. The fastest growing cities/towns from Census 2000 to 2008 based on the percent change between 2000 and 2008 along with the county they reside in are listed below:

* The large increases for Terrytown and Hershey are believed to be primarily due to annexation of territory into their incorporated city limits. In both places, the Census Bureau shows a large increase in population from their 2000 Census count and the estimate program's 2000 base figure. Such increases typically represent annexation. In fact, the annual population changes from the estimates base forward actually show a declining population for these two places, as the table on page 9 shows. [Note: the data for Hallam, NE from the Census Bureau is incorrect as home construction in the aftermath of a tornado double-counts the actual number of housing units. Without correcting the values for Hallam, it would be listed as one of the fastest growing communities, but village offices indicate it does not have as many residents now as in Census 2000.]

6. Although the most recent one year changes can sometimes have fairly large revisions (since these figures will be updated with additional data in the future), trends tend to remain the same, so here are the fastest growing communities in the past year and the county in which they are located (based on percent change from 2007-2008):

7. Here are the top 10 numeric gainers/losers regarding the number of persons from Census 2000 to the 2008 estimate:

8. Again, the changes in the most recent one-year period can have sizeable revisions, but trends tend to hold true so here are the largest growers and decliners from 2007 to 2008:

9a. Over 200 Nebraska incorporated places (206 or 38.9 percent of the state's 530 places) are estimated to have lost 10 percent or more of their population in the 8 years since Census 2000. Given another year of continued population declines in many areas, that is up from 177 places that lost 10 percent or more between 2000 and 2007. [Note: a year ago when the original 2007 data were released, they showed 166 places had lost 10 percent or more - this change stems from updated data such as late filed public records as well as a methodology change to the estimates program.] For comparison, only 22 Nebraska places have grown by 10 percent or more, representing only 4.2% of the states incorporated cities and towns.

9b. Compared to Kansas and Iowa, Nebraska has had a higher percentage of its places lose 10% or more of their population. Since 2000, 151 of the 626 places (24.1%) in Kansas lost 10% or more of their population as did 162 of the 946 places in Iowa (17.1%). See table below. Thus, Nebraska's 38.9 percent of places that have lost 10% or more of their population is roughly twice as high as in our best comparison states. Additionally, the percent of Nebraska towns gaining 10% or more since 2000 trails Kansas and Iowa as well. Overall, the percentage of towns with gains and loses is similar between Kansas and Nebraska, with Iowa having the most positive changes among the three states (23.4% with growth).

10a. Percent changes in population between 2000 and 2008 show worse performance as you move to smaller size communities on the city size continuum. A near-perfect stair-step pattern emerges, especially if fast-growing Gretna is removed from the 1,000 to 2,499 person category (Gretna more than offsets a large loss from all the other towns in this size category). This shows that while the state is growing overall, those gains are not evenly distributed, with larger communities witnessing the vast majority of gains (see chart page 10).

10b. When comparing the above to changes during the 1990s (with the 2000s extrapolated to 2010 based on the change from 2000-08), a similar pattern is generally apparent (see chart page 11). The 1990s growth rates stair-stepped downward as movement from larger to smaller city size categories occurrs. However, the lowest growth (0.6 percent) occurred among those towns with 250-499 residents in 1990 and increased among the smaller categories: 1.1 percent for those with 100-249 residents and 6.2 percent for those with less than 100 residents. The figures for 2000-2010 show these smallest areas losing the greatest percentage of their population.
10c. The percent changes by city size categories differ between Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa (see table below and charts on pages 12 and 13). The same general pattern of larger cities performing better exists, but Nebraska has more change at the size category extremes. Nebraska has the largest growth in the 50,000 or more category and the largest declines in the 7 smallest city size categories, in which the change for Nebraska is always a loss. Iowa manages to have gains in all but the three smallest size categories, but only grows 2.0 percent among areas with 50,000 or more residents. The largest growth category for both Iowa and Kansas is 5,000 to 9,999 residents. The overall growth rate in incorporated areas between 2000 and 2008 is highest in Nebraska, and given the many categories with declines, shows just how strong growth was in the largest size categories and how growth was nowhere near uniform across city sizes.

11. Various "one-liner" type statistics:
Papillion (23,739 residents) continues its ascent among the ranking of Nebraska largest cities. It is now the 9th largest place in Nebraska, having surpassed Norfolk (22,940) in 2008. Papillion's increase was aided by annexation of additional land into city limits as well as continued strong natural change and net migration factors. Papillion had surpassed Columbus to be 10th largest when the data for 2007 were released last year.
Gretna (6,572 residents) is now the state's 25th largest town - it ranked as 27th largest last year, now surpassing Sidney and the more populous Elkhorn was removed from the ranking since it is no longer its own incorporated place. Gretna ranked 51st largest with 2,355 persons in 2000. Growth in the Gretna over the past few years has slowed compared to the first couple years in the decade (see accompanying county place specifics file).
Hickman (1,627 residents) is now the 67th largest town in 2008, up 35 spots from 102nd largest in 2000.
The average size town in Nebraska has 2,650 persons, about the size of Valentine. If Lincoln and Omaha are excluded, the average size Nebraska town has 1,353 residents, about the size of Wakefield. The median sized town, where half the towns are larger and the other half smaller has 317 persons, the size of Arcadia, Hadar, and Phillips. The average size town has increased since 2000 (2,498 and 1,325 respectively) as more total people now live in the larger incorporated areas, but the median size town has decreased (341 in 2000) given that more communities are losing population than growing.
Bellevue had a very strong growth year between 2007 and 2008. Its growth of 1,454 persons was almost twice its next best annual growth of 768 persons between 2003 and 2004 (see accompanying county place specifics file). Bellevue's population now stands at 49,699 and should surpass the 50,000 person milestone when the 2009 data are released next year.
The city of Grand Island had its largest one-year change so far this decade in 2007-08, a growth of 935 persons, much higher than the previous best of a 518 person increase in the prior year of 2006-07 (see accompanying county place specifics file).
Scotts Bluff County and its incorporated places had a relatively strong population change in the most recent year. Populations increased between 2007 and 2008 in each of the county's 10 incorporated places as well as the unincorporated balance of the county (see accompanying county place specifics file). That is a reversal compared to the overall trend since 2000, where only Scottsbluff city and Terrytown have gained population. As discussed earlier, all of the growth in Terrytown can be attributed to the annexation of additional territory and without this annexation, the Terrytown population would have also declined.
Population changes in Adams and Dawson Counties are unique, in that each of the incorporated places as well as the unincorporated balance of the county has increased since 2000 (among highly populated counties analyzed). Most counties have at least one of their cities or towns that have lost population since 2000.



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