Sunday, May 26, 2024

Dane Co keeps getting the most people, but quite a few headed up North to live in 2023

The US Census Bureau had its updated release of populations for all counties, cities, villages and towns come out this month. At the county level, Dane County continues to be the biggest gainer since the 2020 Census, with a population increase of more than 13,800, a number more than 8,000 above than the second-largest growth in a Wis county (Waukesha).

But on a percentage basis, Dane County only has the 8th-fastest increase of all Wisconsin counties. It is mostly rural counties in northern and central Wisconsin that have had the biggest jumps in the 2020s, along with the continually-growing Twin Cities exurbs of Saint Croix County, and the next county north of Milwaukee.

I was going to go into some of the reasons why, but then Marquette University's John Johnson had this excellent breakdown at the Recombobulation Area, and I'll just defer to his analysis.

Johnson looked at Wisconsin as well as 5 other Midwestern states, and notes that our state has overcome unfavorable age demographics by attracting people with migration, helping our population grow by more than 17,000 people in the first 3 years of the decade. As you can see, only Indiana has fared better for net migration in that time period, while Minnesota benefits from favorable demographics. Meanwhile, Illinois continues to lose large numbers of people to other states and places.

Johnson goes on to look at each county in the Midwest under the metrics of migration and "natural change" (births vs deaths). And it tells an interesting story as to what happened in 2023 among different places. For example, the Wisconsin places that had "double-positive" trends in migration and more births than deaths include Dane County, the Green Bay,Appleton, and Oshkosh metro areas, and Eau Claire County. The Twin Cities suburbs also had strong growth due to these trends (both in Minnesota and Wisconsin), as do the counties surrounding Indianapolis, Indiana.

On the flip side, look at how many counties in rural Iowa and Illinois are "double-losers". And how Northern Minnesota also had several double-loser counties, but Northern Wisconsin did not.

I also wanted to go into this map, which shows the counties that had good demographics, but had more people moving out, so they lost population last year. Wisconsin only had 3 counties in this group, but it includes Milwaukee County (down another 1,873 in 2023) and Kenosha County. You'll also see that the Chicago area is in this list, as are the counties that include Indy, Detroit and St. Paul.

The last group includes Midwest counties with more deaths than births. In Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana, many of these places had more people moving in to overcome those lost through bad demographics. This is especially true in Wisconsin, and that's reflected in the high % of growth in many 715 counties last year, and also in the continued growth of the WOW Counties. But in downstate Illinois and a segment of northern Indiana, there are several counties whose demographics were so bad that not even being a gainer of migration kept them from losing people in 2023.

Lots to crunch there, but the successes of Wisconsin in gaining people in 2023 despite unfavorable demographics in many areas of the state should be something we take note of. You also can see how a lot of the WOW Counties are having older people dying off, and being replaced by people coming in from Milwaukee and other areas. And Dane County continues to lead the way, with good trends in both migration and demographics.

I do think some of these changes have yet to be accounted for when we look at the 2024 electorate, and few of those outcomes are good for the Wisconsin GOP, unless the movers to Northern Wisconsin are doing so for culturally conservative reasons and not because they are more liberally-minded voters that enjoy the natural beauty and outdoorsy lifestyle (a trend that I think is a big reason why Door County has become blue-leaning).

As Marquette's Johnson summarizes in his post
By comparing Wisconsin with this set of neighboring states, I hope to better place our demographic situation in context. The bright spots in Wisconsin extend well beyond Madison. Many regions surrounding smaller cities like Eau Claire, Wausau, and the Fox Valley are doing quite well. The rural Northwoods is attracting enough migration to offset the natural decline of its aging population. Our rural communities are in a much healthier place than those of Illinois or Iowa.

Still, even if Wisconsin’s outlook seems better than Illinois’, Milwaukee nonetheless appears to be on the same trajectory as Chicago. In both, the population has fallen by about 3% since the pandemic began. The culprit is the same. The birth rate in each city is positive, but more people choose to move away than to move in.

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