The latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show a continuing trend in Nebraska of urban growth and rural decline.
Nebraska's three largest counties, Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy, all hit record population levels as of July 1 of last year and now account for more than 55% of the 1.93 million state residents, also an all-time high.
In total, nine counties hit record population levels in 2018, including Seward, which is part of the Lincoln metro area, and Cass and Washington, which are part of the Omaha metro area.
David Drozd, research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties combined added more than 12,000 people in the past year, while the state's other 90 counties collectively lost nearly 700 people.
Since 2010, those three counties have added more than 107,000 people, while the rest of the state has lost nearly 4,300.
Lancaster County, despite continuing to grow, saw its rate slow. The county added about 2,900 people last year, after adding 3,800 in 2017. Drozd said it was the county's slowest annual growth rate in the current decade.
Combined with the growth in Seward County, the defined Lincoln metro area added just under 3,100 people, growing to a population of 334,590.
Drozd said one likely factor in the slower growth in Lancaster and other metro counties is the narrowing gap between the state unemployment rate and national unemployment levels.
As of March, the national rate was 3.8%, and the state rate was 2.9%. In previous years, that gap has been much wider, which has meant more people moving to Nebraska for jobs and fewer Nebraskans leaving for jobs elsewhere.
Other possible factors include more deaths and retirement moves among the large baby boomer generation and a slowdown in births, Drozd said.
Despite last year's slowdown in population growth, the Lincoln area still ranked 19th out of 100 mid-sized metro areas nationwide for its growth rate.
"Top 20 percent. That's where you want to be for growth," Drozd said.
Statewide, 36 counties, or 39%, gained population last year. That compares with 55% of counties nationally. Iowa saw 44% of its counties gain population, while only 26% of Kansas counties saw growth.