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2010.12.02 > For Immediate Release
contact: Wendy Townley - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2762 - email: wtownley@unomaha.edu

Vital Statistics Indicate Changes in Nebraska’s Population

Omaha - Vital statistics for 2009 recently released by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services show births to Nebraska residents exceeded resident deaths by the largest amount in more than 25 years. While a majority of Nebraska counties experienced an improvement in this natural phenomenon from 2008 to 2009, a longer term view indicates the natural change in the just completed 2000s decade was not as strong as other decades for many parts of the state.

The state experienced 26,931 births in 2009, similar to the 26,992 in 2008. However, the number of deaths to Nebraska residents dropped by about 650 from 15,451 in 2008 to 14,803 in 2009. Despite experiencing population growth each year this decade, Nebraska deaths in 2009 were the lowest in 5 years, and if the relatively low 2004 year were excluded, the current number of deaths would be the lowest since 1992 (17 years). These factors led to the state’s natural change (births less deaths) of 12,128 to be at its highest level in 27 years (since 12,387 in 1982).

These happenings in the state were mirrored in its largest county. Despite a continually growing total population, 2009 deaths in Douglas County were 279 fewer than in 2008, and at their lowest level in 15 years. Subsequently, Douglas County’s natural increase in 2009 was the largest since the baby boom was ending in 1965 (44 years).

The 2009 vital statistics also indicate the following:

• 57 of Nebraska’s 93 counties had fewer deaths in 2009 than 2008 (61 percent).
• 45 counties had more births in 2009 than 2008 (48 percent).
• 10 counties had their lowest ever annual deaths total since records began in 1946: Antelope, Cuming, Fillmore, Franklin, Frontier, Nance, Richardson, Saline, Wayne, and Wheeler. This long-term low also occurred when grouping 2 similar nonmetropolitan counties that do not contain a city of 10,000 residents (74 counties as a whole).

Sarpy County had 2,663 births in 2009, the highest recorded since records began in 1946. Sarpy and Colfax Counties had their best annual natural change ever recorded.

Looking at the entire decade, Nebraska’s rate of births picked up slightly in the 2000s versus the 1990s. However it remained below the rate in all other decades since records began in the 1930s. Conversely, the state’s rate of deaths for the 2000s was the lowest decade on record. These factors improved the natural change rate from 5.4 percent in the 1990s to 6.4 percent in the 2000s, similar to the 6.6 percent rate that occurred in the 1970s.

The overall level of natural increase in Nebraska was nearly identical between the 1980s and the 2000s decades, about a 109,000 person gain. However, the levels for various portions of the state were vastly different, as metropolitan areas improved their natural increase by more than 18,000 between these two decades while nonmetro areas saw their natural increase reduced by about 17,300. Only 16 counties had their natural change improve in the 2000s versus their 1980s level. These two decades are important to compare as the number of women in their peak reproductive years is relatively high – in the 1980s baby boomers were having their own children, while in the 2000s grandchildren to baby boomers are being born.

In the 1980s when the “baby boom echo” was occurring, 76 Nebraska counties had a natural increase. In the 2000s during the “third wave” of increased births stemming from the baby boom, only 49 counties did. Thus, 27 counties switched from having a natural increase in the 1980s to a natural loss in the 2000s, most notably Gage, Custer, and Holt.

Further illustrations of vital statistics changes by decade include the following:

• None of the 17 counties that had a natural loss in the 1980s switched to having a natural increase in the 2000s – in most cases their losses steepened.
• Scotts Bluff, Box Butte, Holt, and Lincoln Counties each had their natural change in the 2000s reduced by more than 1,000 versus their 1980s level.
• More deaths than births occurred for the second straight decade in Nebraska’s smallest and most remote counties as a group, those that do not have a city of 2,500 persons and are non-metropolitan and non-micropolitan (no city of 10,000 persons). Given that most Nebraska counties are having more people move out than move in, those also experiencing natural loss are likely “doomed” to have population losses until a change in these trends occurs.
• The remote non-metropolitan and non-micropolitan counties that did have a city of 2,500 witnessed their natural change be reduced by about 7,000 between the 1980s and the 2000s, as in the 1980s they had a natural increase of about 8,800 but that dipped to be a natural increase of only about 1,800 in the 2000s decade.
• Red Willow County is the only county along Nebraska’s southern border with Kansas that had a natural increase in the 2000s, albeit only 63 after being 626 in the 1980s. This part of the state as well as northern Kansas both tend to have a relatively large portion of their population aged 65 and over.
• A third of the state’s counties had their number of births in the 2000s decline by 40 percent or more versus the 1980s. These counties are primarily located in the north central or western parts of the state, or along the southern boarder with Kansas. Another third of the state’s counties had a decline in births of between 20 and 40 percent. Only 10 counties had their level of births in the 2000s be higher than in the 1980s – they tended to be metro counties, large counties along Interstate 80, or those with a meat processing facility and associated higher number of Hispanic families.

These vital statistics indicate that certain portions of the state will probably have higher growth rates when 2010 Census data are released in upcoming months. Metropolitan areas, counties with a city of 10,000 residents, and counties along Interstate 80 are likely to be among the state’s fastest growing given these trends, as well as net migration factors that are likely better than in other areas. The Census Bureau will release population totals for Nebraska and other states by the end of December and counts for counties and city will be released in March 2011.

While 2009 vital statistics for Nebraska and many of its counties were relatively improved due to a decline in resident deaths, if the trends in vital events for the entire 2000s decade continue in the 2010s decade, the concentration of Nebraska’s population into its relatively large counties will continue unabated as it has over the past several decades, influencing the distribution of representation within the state’s law and policy-making bodies.

About the Center for Public Affairs Research
The Center for Public Affairs Research is an analytical community outreach unit of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO). The center leads the Nebraska State Data Center, compiling and disseminating various data for Nebraska and its communities that add to policy- making discussions.

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