NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Some Great Plains Counties Losing Population

May 10, 2001

The 2000 census turned up the interesting fact that in Kansas there are now more "frontier counties" -- meaning those having from two to six people per square mile -- than there were in 1890.

That fact illustrates a trend extending through wheat, ranching and oil country from Texas to Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Small towns in the Great Plains are losing population.

  • Although the nation's population grew 13 percent in the 1990s, the Census Bureau found that 676 of the nation's 3,141 counties lost people.
  • The population of the Great Plains peaked in the 1930s, but many communities throughout the plains had been losing people for nearly a century.
  • Populations appeared to rebound early in the 1990s, but the trend resumed due to factors such as water shortages, low grain prices -- and, interestingly enough, because chain stores like KMart and Wal-Mart that opened in larger towns drained business from smaller communities with stores which couldn't compete.

In some of the shrinking communities, headstones reportedly outnumber mailboxes 10 or 20 to one.

Source: Peter T. Kilborn. "Bit by Bit, Tiny Morland, Kan., Fades Away," New York Times, May 10, 2001.


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