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University of Iowa News Release


May 18, 2011

UI analyst says farm crisis still reverberates in Iowa's latest census data

Iowa's farm crisis ended more than 20 years ago, but a University of Iowa analyst said last year's census data shows its impact still rumbles through the state.

Jeff Schott, director of the UI Institute of Public Affairs, said Iowa's rural-to-urban population shift is even more pronounced in a deeper examination of the 2010 U.S. census data.

"When you look back to 1980, the shift is dramatic, and it's not slowing down," said Schott, who analyzed the data for the Iowa League of Cities. "It shows how badly Iowa was clobbered economically in the 1980s and how long-lasting its affects have been. The impacts have lasted for a generation now."

As a result of the crisis, more and more of Iowa's population live in cities. That number was 79 percent in 2010, up from the 74.6 percent who lived in incorporated cities in 1980, before the crisis began. Schott said the rural-to-urban trend is evident in almost every part of the state. In 76 of Iowa's 99 counties, the percentage of residents living in cities increased in 2010 compared to 2000.

Schott noted that the eight counties with a population of more than 50,000 people had a combined overall population increase of 10.9 percent between 2000 and 2010. In contrast, population in the other 91 counties dropped by 1.8 percent. Of the 129 cities registering the largest population decline during the past decade, all but one were smaller than 1,000 residents.

He said the longer-term perspective is even more striking. Since 1980, the population of the eight largest counties has increased by 22.5 percent, while the population of the other 91 counties has declined by 8.7 percent. In 2010, 49.7 percent of Iowa's total population resided in the eight most populous counties, compared to 42.4 percent in 1980.

Only six counties have gained population in every census since 1980: Dallas, Marion, Polk, Story and Warren, all in the Des Moines-Ames area, and Johnson, home to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. At the same time, 42 counties have lost population in every census, and 53 counties have shed 10 percent or more of their population in the past 30 years.

Schott's analysis found that between 2000 and 2010, the number of people living in cities with a population greater than 10,000 grew by 11 percent. The fastest growing cities in the group were those with a population between 10,000 and 20,000, most of them in the booming Des Moines and Cedar Rapids-Iowa City areas, such as Waukee, Johnston and North Liberty. Cities in that population range grew by 46.7 percent during the decade.

Central Iowa continues to emerge as the state's dominant population center, as Polk County and its adjacent counties now make up 23.9 percent of the state's population. In 1980, the region accounted for only 18.3 percent of the overall population.

Schott said those numbers are important for policy makers as they plan for the future of rural Iowa.

"Planning for population decline is a lot different than planning for growth," he said. "It's going to be a challenge for local governments to meet the challenges they have to face, especially as their population ages and there are fewer resources to pay for the services that will be needed."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Schott, director, Institute of Public Affairs, 319-335-7586,; Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),