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.


(4) comments


Correction: The City of Yankton's population in the 2020 census was 15,411, an increase of 957 people or 6.6%. - Chris Anderson


I love you, Kelly, but you leave so much unsaid.

All rural states are having this problem. Whether it’s Texas, Georgia or South Dakota. Or any other you might name.

Fewer and fewer rural Americans have more and more power compared to the Americans in our more populated (and diverse) cities.

The more land an American occupies the more political power they wield. Our Founders had to organize our democracy this way or there wouldn’t have been a United States of America.

Therefore - although our Creator made us equal - in our political structures “some Americans are more equal than others.”

It’s the dilemma of all Republics since Rome. Probably even before. And it’s the core dilemma of the American experiment.

Maybe this’ll work out. Somehow. Or not. It didn’t get resolved last century. Or the century before. Now it’s the challenge of this century. And around we go…

It’s been our challenge since the beginning.

Wish us luck. We’ll surely need it. This isn’t the only problem the old folks are leaving us.



Friedrich Farmer

TruthFairy, you put your finger on it.

People in rural states chafe at the superior attitudes they assume are held by the “Urban Elites.” In truth, some of my city friends ARE guilty of this.

But as if the rural/urban POWER imbalance weren’t enough, this also results in a MONETARY imbalance.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how this 💲💲 imbalance helps us South Dakotans.

Rural states have long benefited from this political reality, using their clout in Washington to make sure more tax dollars come their way than they send to the Federal coffers.

These same city friends are understandably peeved no matter how much I thank them for their largess.

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