Census numbers show Nebraska’s pandemic population change

Census numbers show Nebraska’s pandemic population change

There’s plenty of reasons people should want to live in Nebraska, and Nebraska’s leaders are now highlighting the state’s strengths and benefits through a new ad campaign entitled, The Good Life Is Calling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed families and businesses to rethink a lot of daily life, including where they want to live and work. Anecdotally, we can find many good examples of people choosing Nebraska as their new home over other states, like this recent piece in the Los Angeles Times.

But it’s also important to look at data to understand if those anecdotes are scaling up and making a measurable impact, or if there are competitive issues Nebraska still needs to address to win over more people.

Recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that while Nebraska’s population increased slightly during the height of the pandemic, the state struggled to stand out among the crowd, while many of our rivals saw a significant influx of new residents.

From April 2020 to July 2021, Nebraska’s population increased by 2,188. This growth can be attributed to Nebraska families having more babies, and international visitors who are now part of the Good Life.

But the impact of these gains was offset by an outmigration of people who previously lived in Nebraska and moved to other states. An estimated net of 3,378 more Nebraskans moved away than people who arrived in Nebraska during this time.

How does this stack up against our immediate neighbors? Colorado leads the pack with a net migration of 21,750, but perhaps surprisingly, Missouri was not far behind, with an impressive increase of 18,604 new residents.

South Dakota was in the middle of the pack with an increase of 6,650. It had similar international migration to Nebraska, but posted a net gain of 5,566 domestic residents.

Like Nebraska, Iowa lost domestic residents, but its international population growth was large enough to put the state in positive territory, with a net of 2,025. Wyoming gained 1,651, almost entirely due to domestic migration, while Kansas lost population at the height of COVID-times, with a net migration decrease of 6,356.

For reasons that are both tragic and demographic, a large percentage of states had more deaths than births from April 2020 to July 2021. And yet, some of these same states still experienced major population growth because they are considered more desirable by residents from other states.

Arizona is a startling example. Its natural population grew by only 528, or roughly 10% of the baby boom in Nebraska. Lucky for Arizona, 124,295 people wanted to move there at the same time. Without a doubt, some of them are from Nebraska, and places like California, which lost 415,522 residents to migration in its own right.

During this same time period, the natural U.S. population grew by less than 200,000, while more than a million people chose a new state to live in.

Nebraska already has much to celebrate, since many Nebraskans, including me, consider the state a great place to have kids and raise a family.

We certainly need to make our case to retain the thousands of people who might consider leaving the state in a given year, and perhaps even more importantly, these numbers suggest our leaders need to plant a seed with the many Americans and visitors from abroad who are currently looking for new places to call home.

Nebraska can already make a good appeal on many fronts, from our job market and cost of living, to health care and education. But as lawmakers return to Lincoln this year, they can also work to make the case for Nebraska even stronger.

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