New numbers don’t lie

State’s population shift will result in redistricting Nebraska in 2011 The first local results from the 2010 Census are in, and they show Nebraska's population continues its trend of becoming more concentrated in its most populous counties. Since 2000, the state's largest three counties - Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy - have grown by nearly 125,000 residents while the rest of the state lost nearly 10,000 residents. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those lost residents came in the 43rd Legislative District, which includes all of the Chief coverage area. In fact, the 43rd District saw the largest population decrease of the state's 49 districts, losing just more than 3,000 residents in the last decade, amounting to a 9 percent decrease. In a press conference last week for local and statewide media, David Drozd, research coordinator for the UNO Center for Public Affairs Research, presented an overview of the Census numbers for local areas and what they mean regarding trends that are influencing the distribution of Nebraska's population, including impacts on upcoming redistricting. Drozd explained the counties will use these Census figures to set boundaries for the state's districts in an effort to distribute the population more evenly among the districts. Some Senators, include Sen. Deb Fischer of the 43rd District, has voiced concerns about such a proposal. These Senators, primarily those of the rural areas of Nebraska, say the size of the area should be taken into account as much as population when it comes to districting. With discussions of bringing additional counties and/or communities into the 43rd District to add more people, Sen. Fischer has stated that added territory would make it even more difficult for her to be able to reach her constituents on a regular basis. The concern of distance and travel time is shared by a number of Senators, and Fischer has reminded the legislators that her district is already the size of the state of New Jersey. While the state's growth overall was enough to keep all three of its current seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the boundaries of the congressional districts will change, possibly a great deal. While districts such as the 43rd will most likely see its boundaries increased, other districts such as the 2nd will have to have its current boundaries reduced to achieve districts of equal population size. Redistricting was the primary reason for the 2010 Census. The average district size to be targeted in redistricting is 37,272. In the last decade, about 60 percent of the Unicameral districts gained population, which broken down by counties shows 24 of Nebraska's 93 counties gained population. However, that is down from the 40 county gain during the 1990s. A quarter of Nebraska's counties, 23 of 93, lost 10 percent or more of their population during the 2000s decade. Losses were greatest in Blaine, Grant, Keya Paha and Banner counties, which each lost more than 15 percent of their population in the decade. More than 200 Nebraska counties lost 10 percent or more of their population during the 2000s, compared to only 84 who had done so in the 1990s. Drozd offered his opinion on what he believes might be some of the factors leading to the loss in rural population. He notes that births are down overall in the rural areas, and the migration of high school graduates to college towns across Nebraska continues to be a factor. Drozd says that often those students remain in those towns after they have finished college, rather than returning to their rural roots. The state's "big 3" counties now comprise an estimated 52.6 percent of the state's population, after having 48.9 percent in 2000. The nearly four percentage point increase was the largest change in any decade since the 1960s. This population shift will redistribute the state's unicameral seats in favor of urban areas after redistricting occurs in 2011. About 2/3 of Nebraska's growth is attributable to increases in the Hispanic population, while non-Hispanic Whites accounted for a mere five percent. Between 2000 and 2010, 80 percent of Nebraska's counties saw an increase in the minority population while the White, non-Hispanic population decreased. Only 11 counties saw an increase in both populations. More detailed Census date on such categories as gender and household information for Nebraska will be released in May, with an overall Census summary expected in June.