Bureau of Business Research


Date of this Version



Published in Business in Nebraska, Volume 61, No. 684, October 2006. Presented by the UNL Bureau of Business Research. Used by permission.


The most recent release of population estimates from the Census Bureau indicates that 70 Nebraska counties lost population between 2000 and 2005. These counties included 52 of the 53 that recorded population losses between 1990 and 2000, joined by 18 counties that had grown through the 1990s.

While those counties estimated to have lost population over the last five years included three of 11 micropolitan core counties, eight of ten outlying microplitan counties, and even one of seven outlying metropolitan counties, the great majority were nonmetropolitan. Of the 43 Nebraska counties containing no community of 2,500 or more residents, 42 are estimated to have declined in total population since the 2000 Census.

These numbers clearly indicate a continuing concentration of Nebraskans in metropolitan centers and their suburbs. Even allowing for the possibility that inter-Census estimates for small counties may be something less than perfect, the continuing loss of population in rural portions of our state, which in some counties has continued for more than 100 years, does not inspire much optimism for their economic and social future.

As is often the case with things statistical, these aggregate data tell a story that is incomplete. Depopulation is certainly occurring, but not in the uniform way that one might imagine. In order to fully understand the likely impact of population change, one must ask not only how many people are involved, but who those people are. The answers sometimes can be counterintuitive and surprising, as is the case of changes in Nebraska’s non-metropolitan labor force.

Of the 53 Nebraska counties that lost population between 1990 and 2000, Census results indicate that 31 saw actual increases in the size of their labor force. Of those same counties, 43 saw an increase in their labor force participation rate and 45 experienced an increase in the proportion of the labor force with full-time work.