The new U.S. Census statistics for South Dakota don’t offer any real surprises, for better and for worse.
South Dakota (as well as Nebraska) showed population growth, but more detailed reporting indicates that most of that growth occurred in the urban areas. (Actually, census figures released last week showed that half of the counties in South Dakota gained population and half lost people, but a few of those on the positive side made significant gains.)
And no, that’s not really a good trend. Such growth disparity in population is generally followed by political alignments reflecting the same thing, as well as an economic fallout as people look to urban centers to do more of their shopping instead of keeping their money closer to home. It represents a sapping of power, vitality and economic opportunity from our rural areas.
A large percentage of the population growth in South Dakota occurred in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties (metro Sioux Falls) in the east and Pennington County (Rapid City) in the west. These three counties account for more than a third of the state’s 896,581 residents. (A reflection of sorts of the consequences of that concentrated growth could be seen Monday when the Yankton High School club softball team hosted the team from brand-new Sioux Falls Jefferson High School.)
Yankton County saw growth during the 2010s, but it was quite modest, with the population climbing from 22,438 to 23,310. Meanwhile, the city of Yankton’s population ticked up only slightly from 14,467 in 2010 to 14,687 a decade later. (It’s likely that most of the growth the county did see was in the city and the lake area.) While small city/county increases are better than subtraction, the incremental gains point in part to issues in housing and economic expansion.
Overall, the census picture again tells us that rural areas continue to have problems attracting and keeping people. Also, as farming operations become larger, fewer people are living on fewer individual farms. Thus, small towns dependent on rural business are hurting, too.
One possible, albeit limited, answer for some predominantly rural counties and towns is their proximity to larger communities. For instance, there are increasingly more people who, say, work in Sioux Falls but commute in from outside the city where more housing is available, the cost of living may be a little more reasonable and it is generally quieter. It’s not an ideal fix for smaller communities, but it’s a plus in terms of the local tax base.
Nevertheless, the problems in rural areas continue to be a concern. It’s fine that the state overall saw population growth and a few counties enjoyed some big increases. But unless South Dakota’s small communities can find ways to remain viable, the growing disparity in the state is only going to produce more headaches and numerous fronts.