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Although the population of the Great Plains has grown more rapidly than the U.S. population as a whole since the middle of the 20th century, most of its counties have lost population over the period, according to a Census Bureau report released today. The region's overall population increase was limited primarily to metropolitan counties.
The report, Population Dynamics of the Great Plains: 1950 to 2007 [PDF], details population trends over the period in this vast area stretching across the nation's midsection using a combination of decennial census data and annual population estimates. The Great Plains stretches across parts of 10 states, from the Mexican to the Canadian border, containing fully 18 percent of the land mass of the lower 48 states and roughly 3 percent of their population. (See map 1. [PDF])
According to the report, the Great Plains population more than doubled over the period, from 4.9 million in 1950 to 9.9 million in 2007. Its 102 percent population increase slightly exceeded the 99 percent rise for the U.S. as a whole. Yet at the same time, 244 of the region's 376 counties saw their populations decline, with 69 of them losing more than half their population. (See maps 2 and 3. [PDF])
While counties in the Great Plains' metro areas more than tripled in population density over the 57-year period, those outside metro and micro areas experienced a 23 percent decline, becoming even more sparsely populated. As a result, by 2007, the average population density for the latter group of counties fell below the historical standard for a settled area. (A metro area contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population, and a micro area contains an urban core of 10,000 to 49,999 people.)
In many of the counties outside metro areas, deaths exceeded births, net outmigration was common and there was an older age structure. For instance, among the 261 Great Plains counties with fewer than 10,000 people, most (239) had negative net migration between 2000 and 2007, with more than half (133) also having more deaths than births. Almost 55 percent of Great Plains counties had a 2007 median age of at least 40 years, with most located outside metro areas.
In contrast, all 34 Great Plains counties with populations of at least 50,000 had more births than deaths, and 23 of the 34 had positive net migration. Not coincidentally, the percentage of the Great Plains population living in metro areas rose from 39 percent in 1950 to 68 percent in 2007. A young population residing in its metro areas resulted in the Great Plains actually having a slightly younger overall age structure than that of the U.S. as a whole.