Great Plains’ Overall Population Increase Masks Sad Losses in Majority of its Counties
WASHINGTON, July 17 — The U.S. Census Bureau issued the following news release: Although the population of the Great Plains has grown more rapidly than the U.S. population as a whole since the middle of the 20th century, most of its counties have lost population over the period, according to a Census Bureau report released today. The region’s overall population increase was limited primarily to metropolitan counties.
The report, Population Dynamics of the Great Plains: 1950 to 2007, details population trends over the period in this vast area stretching across the nation’s midsection using a combination of decennial census data and annual population estimates. The Great Plains stretches across parts of 10 states, from the Mexican to the Canadian border, containing fully 18 percent of the land mass of the lower 48 states and roughly 3 percent of their population.
According to the report, the Great Plains population more than doubled over the period, from 4.9 million in 1950 to 9.9 million in 2007. Its 102 percent population increase slightly exceeded the 99 percent rise for the U.S. as a whole. Yet at the same time, 244 of the region’s 376 counties saw their populations decline, with 69 of them losing more than half their population.
While counties in the Great Plains’ metro areas more than tripled in population density over the 57-year period, those outside metro and micro areas experienced a 23 percent decline, becoming even more sparsely populated. As a result, by 2007, the average population density for the latter group of counties fell below the historical standard for a settled area. (A metro area contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population, and a micro area contains an urban core of 10,000 to 49,999 people.)
In many of the counties outside metro areas, deaths exceeded births, net out migration was common and there was an older age structure. For instance, among the 261 Great Plains counties with fewer than 10,000 people, most (239) had negative net migration between 2000 and 2007, with more than half (133) also having more deaths than births. Almost 55 percent of Great Plains counties had a 2007 median age of at least 40 years, with most located outside metro areas.
In contrast, all 34 Great Plains counties with populations of at least 50,000 had more births than deaths, and 23 of the 34 had positive net migration. Not coincidentally, the percentage of the Great Plains population living in metro areas rose from 39 percent in 1950 to 68 percent in 2007. A young population residing in its metro areas resulted in the Great Plains actually having a slightly younger overall age structure than that of the U.S. as a whole.
* Growth in the Great Plains has been concentrated within counties along the periphery of the region in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Other areas of growth include a corridor of counties running through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles into the southwestern corner of Kansas and a group of counties in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota.
* Great Plains counties located in Colorado and Texas — one third of the Great Plains counties — gained 4.8 million people and accounted for 96 percent of the total population growth in the region.
* Metropolitan counties in the Great Plains gained population between 1950 and 2007. Their share of the 2007 population, 17 percent, was down from 23 percent but still higher than the metropolitan share for the U.S. (10 percent).
* Twenty of the 25 Great Plains counties in North Dakota lost population over the 1950 to 2007 period, as did 46 of the 58 Great Plains counties in Kansas. * Almost 60 percent of Great Plains counties reached their maximum population prior to 1950, with most of those peaking between 1900 and 1920.
* Four out of five Great Plains counties had a percentage 65 and older that was higher than the U.S. average of 13 percent. McIntosh County, N.D., had the highest percentage of its population 65 and older in the U.S. in 2007: 36 percent.