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The dynamics of population change in the Great Plains are complex and largely hidden. From a regional or even state perspective, one is left with the impression that the area has enjoyed sustained population growth. All 12 states in the region (i.e., Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) increased their population from 1990 to 2000, and the region as a whole expanded by 6.7 million people or 17 percent (Rathge, 2005). In fact, the region’s population has doubled since 1950. However, these aggregate statistics mask a very different reality. Population growth in the region has been largely a metropolitan phenomenon. From 1990 to 2000, 85 percent of the region’s population growth occurred in metropolitan counties which account for only 14 percent of all counties in the region. In contrast, rural counties (i.e., those lacking a city of at least 2,500 people) comprise about one-third of all counties in the Great Plains and their population base has declined by one-fifth since 1950. Moreover, the redistribution of population in the region has been very age-selective. From 1990 to 2000, the young adult population (i.e., ages 20 to 34) has declined by 7 percent in the region’s nonmetropolitan counties while their metropolitan counterparts grew by 4 percent. In contrast, the senior elderly population (i.e., ages 85 and older), ballooned in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties at rates of 41 percent and 23 percent respectively. The purpose of this article is to explore future population change in the region and its policy implications, with a specific focus on age cohorts and county population size.



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