Nebraska had its largest population increase of the decade from July 2008 to July 2009, according to new census numbers released Wednesday.
The overall gain of 14,670 people was fueled by the arrival of 27,000 babies -- the most in 27 years -- a steady influx of new faces from international places and the first overall gain in immigration versus out-migration in the past 10 years.
The overall immigration number takes into account people arriving in Nebraska from other countries and states. And it is tied to a decline in the number of people leaving the state.
One of the more striking features of growth, said David Drozd of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is that the state almost matched the rate of growth for the United States as a whole.
That's significant because Nebraska has pulled ahead of the U.S. growth rate only five times since 1900. The last time was in 1961.
The most recent comparison shows the nation at .86 percent growth and Nebraska at .82, as of July.
Drozd, a research coordinator at UNO's Center for Public Affairs Research, credited the state's relatively strong economy and a situation where "we tend to benefit as some of the nation, as a whole, starts to have some immigration struggles here" relative to other states and regions.
He said Nebraska has been a magnet for newcomers "not only hard-hit housing states, but also states that have lost a lot of jobs from the auto and some of the other industries."
Besides 1961, the other years when Nebraska's rate of growth topped the nation's were 1955, 1949, 1945 and 1919.
"Prior to this year, it's been kind of military effects or things stemming from the baby boom," Drozd said.
While there's certainly some baby boom flavor to the 2009 update, migration patterns are something new.
"In the past, migration has been kind of a drag on population growth as more people tended to move out than move in."
That could have some negative economic connotation, with people who might have otherwise retired to warmer places sticking around to deal with shrunken retirement nest eggs.
With decisions to work a bit longer, departures for "typical retirement destinations" have slowed.
Drozd said it's hard to tell what will happen in the next few months as the economy starts to recover in some of the more hard-hit states, and, in the next few years, as a generation of Nebraskans ages.
He called the latter "the other big wild card ... what the baby boomers are going to do as they start to approach this age of 65 and might start to retire."
Wednesday's census figures sustain a population spurt of more than 85,000 since 2000 and 12,037 for the one-year period from July 2007 to July 2008.
One of the implications, Drozd said, is to virtually snuff out the possibility of Nebraska losing one of its three congressional seats after the 2010 census. Population trends have taken that from "low danger," he said, "to practically no danger."
Population growth is also good because "it's used to distribute large pots of federal dollars to states."
Sources at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center and BryanLGH Medical Center offered birth numbers Tuesday that seemed to fit in with the jump in the statewide picture.
Saint Elizabeth hit 3,000 babies for the first time in 2005 and its all-time high of about 3,180 in 2007, said spokeswoman Jo Miller.
BryanLGH showed a gain from 1,901 deliveries to 2,302 in the fiscal year that ended May 31, said Edgar Bumanis.
Other highlights of the latest census report:
- Nebraska outpaced Iowa and Kansas in its July-to-July rate of growth, and even its numbers gain of 85,354 for the decade is better than Iowa's 81,476.
- Nebraska's one-year numbers gain and its percentage population gain were the highest since 1995-96.
- Nebraska gained about 102,000 residents through natural change (births versus deaths) from 2000 to 2009 while losing about 9,000 to net migration.
Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or email@example.com.