Rural areas declined in population as Nebraska’s urban areas grew significantly over the last decade, but the state will maintain its current three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Data collected through the 2020 Census was highlighted Aug. 26 during the 2021 Nebraska Data Users Conference Series by the Centers for Public Affairs Research.

David Drozd, research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, presented portions of the data during the video teleconference.

The Nebraska population count for April 1, 2020, was 1,961,501. It’s now the 37th largest state, after moving up one spot by passing West Virginia.

This is the first time since the 1900 census that Nebraska has moved up in the U.S. ranking.

Looking back to the 1900 census, Drozd said Nebraska historically has struggled to keep up with the national average in growth.

The state has increased in population for every census except 1930, in Dust Bowl and Great Depression days. Even in the midst of the farming crisis of the 1970s-1980s, the state managed to grow, but at a slower pace than the national average.

Drozd said analysts predicted the state would see a similar lag in growth in 2020, estimated at about 3% lower than the national average.

Instead, the state equaled the U.S. average for the first time since 1900.

“Our better performance has allowed us to keep three seats in U.S. House of Representatives,” he said. “If we had trailed U.S. growth rate by 3%, we would have been at risk of losing a congressional seat.”

Nebraska’s population rose 135,164 or 7.4% from the 2010 census of 1,826,341.

Drozd said the majority of that growth came from births outnumbering deaths. The other main factor in population change, migration in and out of the state, was a lesser factor with a net inmigration of 37,037.

Sarpy County saw the most growth of any Nebraska county with a 20% increase, followed by Douglas and Lancaster counties with 13% each. Only 24 of the state’s 93 counties saw an increase.

The three biggest counties now make up 56% of the state’s population. That’s an increase since the 2010 census when those counties first commanded more than half of the state’s population at 52.6%. Prior to that, the bulk of Nebraska’s population had been rural.

Most Tribland counties reflected that migration to urban areas.

The lone outlier was Kearney County, which rose to 6,688, up 3.1% from the 2010 census of 6,489.

The population of Adams County was counted at 31,205 in the 2020 census, down 0.5% from 31,364 in 2010.

Clay County had 6,104 people, down 6.7% from 6,542 in 2010.

Fillmore County counted 5,551, a decrease of 5.8% from 5,890 in 2010.

Franklin County was at 2,889, down 10.4% from the 2010 census of 3,225.

Nuckolls County counted 4,095 people, dropping 9% from 4,500 in 2010.

Thayer County had a population of 5,034, down 3.7% from 5,228 in 2010.

Webster County was at 3,395, 5.4% less than the 3,812 counted in 2010.

Looking at race and ethnicity trends in the state, Drozd said people of color contributed to at least half of the population gains in the 24 Nebraska counties that increased. He said whites barely increased in the state, but that stood in contrast to the white population losses in Iowa, Kansas and 13 other states.

With the results tabulated, the state is looking to redistricting, paying particular attention to areas that changed by 5% or more.

Wayne Bena, deputy secretary of state for elections, said the Nebraska Secretary of State office is ramping up efforts to finalize redistricting before the 2022 election. The Legislature approved a shortened timeframe for the process after there was a delay in the census results from the pandemic.

Now that the data has been received, he said a special session of the Legislature is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13-30. During that session, state senators will draw new district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Legislature, the Nebraska Supreme Court, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, the state Public Service Commission and the Nebraska Board of Education.

Once the Legislature is done with its work, Bena said, it will be up to the counties to draw precinct boundaries. He said precincts can’t cross state legislative districts and can’t have more than 1,750 polling site voters.

“Counties will have approximately a month to get those precinct lines done then provide those to the political subdivisions within their jurisdictions,” he said.

After the precinct deadline of Nov. 1, there will be a longer period of review for the public power districts, but those are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Bena said Jan. 5, 2022, is the final deadline for any boundary adjustments to be made in effect for the 2022 primary election.

He said they were able to basically cut the time needed for redistricting in half, which was necessary to make it in time for the 2022 election.

“I’m proud of the collaborative work we did to make this possible,” he said. “A lot of states are in worse shape than we are.”