Thursday, March 30, 2023

College counties got students back, and Dane County kept growing in 2022

Interesting new numbers from the US Census Bureau came out today, showing the change in population for all US counties in 2022. As has been the trend for much of the 21st Century, most of the fastest-growing counties were in the South and West, while Wisconsin was more of a mixed bag in terms of growth vs decline. But one county in our state stood out.

See that dark green dot in Western Wisconsin, showing growth above 2.5% for the year? That's Dunn County. I saw that and said "Dunn County"? That's a mostly run-of-the-mill, semi-rural Wisconsin county, but it does have one notable difference from most places in the state.

And then I remembered that early 2021 had a disproportionate amount of college students at home, because of the COVID pandemic and lack of a vaccine until the end of Spring semester. Which led me down a rabbit hole of looking at Wisconsin counties with a sizable UW campus on it, to see if that was a reason behind Dunn County's growth, and if it was similar in other parts of the state.

I left out Whitewater and River Falls because those campuses are spread across 2 counties (and would be harder to see an effect), and Milwaukee, Green Bay and Parkside (Kenosha) don't have their UW campus be a significant part of their population, so I left them out, too. In doing that, it does seem that 2022 had a bounce-back effect in a lot of these college counties, as the pandemic waned and students headed back on campus.

And that second chart tells us that something else returned to normal in 2022 - more people keep coming to the Madison area, as Dane County accounted for more than 1/2 of the state's population growth of 12,438. There was also the continuance of a negative trend for Wisconsin's most populous county. While Milwaukee County didn't lose more than 15,000 people as it did in 2021, it still lost more than 5,500 last year.

Given that Waukesha County added over 1,500 people from net domestic migration last year, it makes me wonder how many of those Milwaukee County losses came from folks moving across 124th Street. And maybe it helps explain why suburban Milwaukee has had a larger shift towards Democrats than any other area of the state in recent years.

These new Census numbers wouldn't look too far out of place in 2019. But given the disruptions of the COVID World of 2020 and 2021, it's nice to see things settling back to a familiar place for 2022. And 2023's changes should give an even better indication where things may be going for the post-COVID Wisconsin.

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