Nebraska population continues gradual growth

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) โ€” Nebraska is continuing its moderate population growth at roughly the same rate as the nation, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.The state had an estimated population of 1,868,516 as of July 1, for a net gain of about 13,000 people. The estimated growth was 0.7 percent higher than the estimated population in July 2012.The state's population grew 2.3 percent since the last U.S. census in 2010, said Jerry Deichert, executive director of the University of Nebraska Omaha's Center for Public Affairs Research. The nation's population grew by 2.4 percent in the same period.Deichert said Nebraska enjoyed strong growth relative to other states because of the economic downturn, but the trend appears to be waning."Three or four years ago, during the recession, Nebraska wasn't hit as hard as other states," Deichert said. "Nebraska was attracting people because the economy was in better shape. Since then, it looks like that's not the case anymore."Nebraska's growth ranked in the middle of its neighbors. The state grew at a faster rate than Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, but lagged behind Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. The nation's fastest-growing state was North Dakota, which surged 7.6 percent in the midst of an oil boom.Deichert said Nebraska likely is continuing a trend of population growth around Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island and Kearney, while most other parts of the state see declines. More than half of the state's population now lives in Douglas, Lancaster or Sarpy counties, according to census data.A handful of extremely rural counties โ€” Blaine, Banner, Arthur and Thomas โ€” have seen their populations grow at some of the state's fastest rates, but the total number of people added is much smaller.Nebraska's population ranks 38th nationally, and the state had the 26th highest growth rate. If the trend continues over the next several decades, Deichert said, the state could lose one of its three U.S. House seats, which would mean less influence nationally. Deichert said such a loss was unlikely in 2020 if the current trend continues."Given what we have here, I would definitely say we won't pick up one," Deichert said. "We're still growing slower than the nation. That typically means that, eventually, we'll lose another seat."Nebraska's population grew 6.7 percent between 2000 and 2010, and 8.4 percent between 1990 and 2000. Based on previous data, Deichert predicted that most of the growth originates with births outpacing deaths in Nebraska. The state should also expect to see a net gain from immigration, he said, although most new arrivals will likely come from other countries instead of states.The government did not release a population breakdown by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin, so it's not possible to know what exactly drove this year's increase, said David Drozd, a research coordinator at the Center for Public Affairs Research. The information is typically released all at once in December, but this year it was delayed by the federal government's partial shutdown in October.The Census Bureau is expected to release a county-by-county breakdown of Nebraska's population by mid-March.The U.S. population grew 2.3 percent since the 2010 census and 0.72 percent in the past year to 316.1 million.