Wisconsin Population Distribution
Wisconsin Population Distribution, 2000-2010 (Full report, 3.3 MB pdf)
Wisconsin’s Population Distribution 2000-2010
- Population loss across rural counties was lower than the national rate
- Highest losses were confined to Northwoods counties
- Approximately 50,000 residents were gained in rural counties
- Trends underscore the importance of strengthening rural health networks
- Tract-level data, when released in 2012, will allow more detailed analysis
As the proportion of Americans living outside of cities declines nation-wide, population distribution in Wisconsin has remained more stable. According to county-level census figures, the proportion of the state’s population residing in non-metropolitan counties declined by only seven tenths of one percent in the past ten years. In fact, there were 49,902 more Wisconsinites residing in non-metropolitan counties in 2010 than in 2000. However, several of Wisconsin’s northern rural counties experienced population declines, which is noteworthy because in the previous decade, these counties had seen robust growth from in-migration.
Wisconsin resists more extreme shifts in population distribution because of its thirteen metropolitan centers and its proximity to cities in surrounding states. Many rural Wisconsinites are able to commute to employment in vibrant and growing labor markets, which allow their regions’ young people to begin careers without straying far from home. Most non-metropolitan population increases over the past ten years were seen in counties adjoining these metropolitan centers.
Madison and the Fox Cities have proven to be Wisconsin’s strongest urban engines for growth. Rural counties along their edges have surged in size at double digit-rates. However it was St. Croix County, on the periphery of Minnesota’s twin cities, that led the state with an increase of 33.55%. Rural counties to the North and South of Saint Croix County also saw growth from the twin cities, experiencing growth rates above the state and national averages. Growth occurred in the rural counties surrounding Lacrosse and Eau Claire as well.
Wisconsin’s resistance to more extreme population concentration may also derive from its widespread economic diversity. Rural populations in Wisconsin are sustained by representation from several economic sectors. Even as agriculture has continued to consolidate, many rural Wisconsin communities sustain stable farm economies. Some are fortified by manufacturing bases or resource extraction, and others support tourism enterprises.
The rural counties that lost population fall into one of three categories. 1) Those that attract relocating retirees have difficulty retaining young workers and families because they are beyond commuting distance to large economic centers and have more expensive housing. 2) Rural counties with little appeal to newcomers exemplify “aging in place”, which occurs when young people leave and only their parents’ and grandparents’ generations remain. The average age in these counties slowly creeps upward as the population size creeps downwards. 3) Counties that saw double-digit losses are stricken with rapidly declining resource-based economies, which speeds out migration among several age groups.
Despite losses in some counties, rural counties continue to house over a quarter of Wisconsin’s residents. Diversified local economies and dispersed economic centers help make this possible. This deviation from the national urbanizing trend underscores the continued importance of strong rural healthcare networks in Wisconsin. Hospitals, clinics, and EMS keep rural residents healthy: where residents commute for work, where elderly populations concentrate, and where economic development is sorely needed. What is more, they help sustain their communities economically by offering good jobs and making rural communities more appealing places for new residents.
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