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2011.12.14 > For Immediate Release
contact: David Drozd - UNO Center for Public Affairs Research
phone: 402.554.2132 - email: ddrozd@unomaha.edu

Suburban Housing Slowdown, Improved Farm Economy Likely Causes for Improved Migration to Douglas and Rural Counties

Omaha - Recently released migration statistics from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Center for Public Affairs Research showed that Nebraska counties at both ends of the population size spectrum performed relatively better in 2009 than in the recent past. Douglas County, the state’s most populous county, as well as 74 predominately rural counties combined as a group each had their best net person movement from other locations within the state during the past 10 years.

Douglas County gained nearly 850 residents from other Nebraska locations in 2009, a stark contrast to a loss of over 800 just two years prior in 2007. Douglas County has traditionally lost residents on net to other Nebraska counties, with the only other year in the past ten having net inmigration being 2004, when the Gallup Organization moved its headquarters from Lincoln to Omaha.

The gains in Douglas County stemmed from improvements with nearby counties. Douglas County typically has a large outmigration to Sarpy County, but the loss in 2009 was only about 400 persons versus being over a thousand people in each of the prior nine years.

Douglas County both pulled in more Sarpy County residents (nearly 5,500 in 2009 versus an average of 4,300 in the prior nine years) as well as had fewer people leave to reside in Sarpy County. Likewise, Douglas County usually has net outmigration to Cass County, but in 2009 Douglas County netted 25 people from Cass County, breaking a nine-year string of outmigration, during which the average loss was more than 100 people per year.

Sarpy and Cass Counties, along with Gage and Seward Counties, each had their worst net migration from other Nebraska locations during 2009. All of these counties are located near a metropolitan center but had relatively fewer people moving there in 2009, an apparent effect of the credit crunch and housing construction slowdown. Sarpy County still gained more than 800 people from other Nebraska counties, but that amount was only half of the average gain in the preceding nine years (1,657).

Other Nebraska counties with at least 10,000 residents had their second best net movement in the past ten years in 2009.

Hall County gained 80 residents from other Nebraska counties, below an increase of about 180 in the prior year but those were the only times in the past ten years that had net inmigration. Scotts Bluff County gained an even 100 persons from other Nebraska counties, slightly below a similar increase in the prior year. Colfax, Dawson, and Red Willow Counties each had a net outmigration to other Nebraska areas, but the amount of loss was the second smallest in the past 10 years.

While the migration data which are provided by the Internal Revenue Service based upon where households file their tax returns from one year to the next do not contain any statistics on the characteristics of the movers, it is worth noting that many of the state’s counties performing relatively well in 2009 shared a common characteristic of having a sizeable Hispanic/Latino presence located within the county.

Combining Nebraska’s counties into groups shows diverging patterns within the state. Nebraska’s nine metropolitan counties typically have a large net inmigration as they did in 2009. However, the net gain in 2009 of about 1,900 was 700 less than the average gain over the preceding nine years. Nebraska’s ten nonmetropolitan regional centers that have a city of at least 10,000 residents have tended to lose population to other Nebraska places.

The level of loss has improved recently, with the average loss in the last five years being less than 400 persons per year versus more than 700 persons annually in the first five years of the decade. Nebraska’s remaining 74 mostly rural counties have tended to have large outmigrations to other Nebraska counties. However, the loss in 2009 of about 1,500 was markedly improved from annual losses of about 2,400 earlier in the decade. The 74 mainly rural counties as a group improved their net migration level from 2008 to 2009 (gain of 759), while both Nebraska’s metropolitan counties and the ten nonmetropolitan regional centers declined (losses of 462 and 297 respectively).

Improvements in the predominately rural counties stemmed from a reduction in outmigrants. About 600 fewer people left these counties for other Nebraska areas in 2009, while inmigrants to the mostly rural counties remained about the same as other recent years. The rural economy has been boosted by relatively higher commodity prices and a relatively small rise in unemployment rates compared to Nebraska’s metropolitan areas. These improving economic competitiveness factors appear to be at least temporarily slowing the decades-long outmigration trend from rural Nebraska. The relatively strong agricultural economy that existed in 2010 and 2011 bodes well for rural migration changes since 2009. Other notable county specific changes include:

* Lincoln County had its worst intrastate movement in the past ten years in 2009 (loss of 67). Four years earlier in 2005 Lincoln County had a net gain of nearly 250 people from other Nebraska locations.

* Lancaster and York Counties each had their second worst net migration in the last ten years in 2009. Lancaster County still gained more than 350 people from other Nebraska locations, but that level has now declined three straight years and is much smaller than the average gain during the prior nine years (gain of 870).

* Red Willow County provides a good example of the trend of migration improvement. While Red Willow County has lost residents to other Nebraska areas each of the past ten years, the loss averaged 92 persons per year during the first eight years before slowing to losses of only seven and 22 people in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Douglas County had a few other notable changes, even with counties in other states:

* Looking at county-to-county moves within the Omaha metro area, Douglas County gained residents from Mills County, Iowa for the first time in ten years. Similarly Douglas County gained (gain of 74) from Pottawattamie County, Iowa for the first time since 2001, breaking a string of seven straight outmigration years when the loss averaged nearly 110 persons per year. Douglas County also had its second-best net change with Washington County in 2009. Thus, combined with improvements with Sarpy and Cass Counties, Douglas County showed strength across the board in 2009.

* Evaluating all county-to-county net migrations for Douglas County in 2009, the highest levels of net inmigration tend to come from other counties in Nebraska (Lancaster, Dodge and Buffalo). Seven of the ten best net inmigrations are from other Nebraska counties. Conversely, seven of the ten worst net outmigrations are to counties outside of Nebraska.

This is the third release in a series of summaries on the migration topic that the Center for Public Affairs Research will provide. Future releases coming about every three weeks will include a profile of the characteristics of movers (age, marital status, etc.), and an update for the 2010 year to annual information on migration for those with Bachelor’s Degrees or more education (“Brain Gain/Drain”).

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. The Center leads the Nebraska State Data Center, compiling and disseminating various data for Nebraska and its communities that add to policymaking discussions.

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