Nebraska’s Shrinking Rural Population Is Big Issue for Agriculture
LINCOLN – November 26, 2018
Recent research has indicated that 69 out of 93 Nebraskan counties, primarily rural ones, are now losing population, with 60 of the counties having more deaths than births. People simply prefer to live in towns and cities than in rural areas.
Urbanization is an objective trend in many developed countries and there’s nothing bad in it at first glance, but, if we look deeper we can see that such a trend could cause serious problems for the agricultural sector of the economy, in which Nebraska plays a key role.
At least 1.1 million of Nebraska’s 1.9 million residents live in five counties: Lancaster, Douglas, Sarpy, Hall, and Dakota.
“That’s a real concentration of population,” Josie Schafer, Director of Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told state senators and senators-elect gathered for a November meeting. “This has been an overwhelming trend for a really long time and you can expect it certainly to continue.”
According to the latest data provided, back in 2016 Nebraska brought in $21.5 billion as agricultural producers, farms, and ranches use 91% of the state’s total land area. Some agricultural leaders even believe the loss of rural population can create a loss of political relevance in Nebraska and national politics.
Nebraska loses 2,000 people annually to other states. They are mostly going to Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado. Fewer are going to South Carolina, Washington, North Carolina and Florida. The worst thing for the state is that people with bachelor’s degrees and higher are leaving the state, as they see no perspective there.
The minority population in the state is also growing, from just 8% in 1990 to 21% in 2017, while the Latino population alone is at 11%, more than other minorities in Nebraska combined, including African-Americans, Asians, Natives and people of two or more races.
“Soon, our institutions of higher education will look different,” Schafer told senators. “This change in diversity will continue throughout their lifetime and we will see our schools, our institutions of higher education and eventually our workforce look very different than they do today.”
Nebraska is also experiencing the beginning of what will be the massive retirement of baby boomers, Schafer said.
Aging population, urbanization, immigration… It seems like we’re losing the Nebraska we know and the future of the state remains uncertain.