Apr 19, 2023 - News

While Des Moines metro grows, Iowa's rural areas dwindle

Change in Iowa population, 2020 to 2022
Data: S&P Global Mobility; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between 2020-'22, Iowa's rural population continued to experience the biggest share of the state's population decline while urban areas grew, according to new Census data.

Driving the news: Our state's population grew .31% overall, staying relatively stagnant in comparison to fast-growing Idaho and the sudden drops in states like New York and California.

  • While growth in Iowa's urban centers kept the population neutral, some rural areas experienced up to a 3% decline.

State of play: At the start of the pandemic, sociologists questioned if rural America would experience a revival as more jobs became remote, cheaper homes grew more attractive and families looked to escape dense cities.

Yes, but: That never panned out here.

Zoom in: For more than 100 years, Iowa's urban areas have pulled from rural populations.

  • Higher-paying jobs have shifted away from agriculture and manufacturing, leading young workers to cities and aging small towns, Peter Orazem, an economist at ISU, tells Axios.
  • The pandemic did not shift that long-standing trend, Orazem says.

For example, Dallas County continues to boom, experiencing a 7.5% population increase from 2020-'22.

  • The county containing West Des Moines, Waukee, Urbandale and Clive gained nearly 8,000 people within those two years.
  • The median age: 35.

Meanwhile, Monona County in western Iowa experienced the state's biggest population decline, shrinking nearly 3% and losing 400 people.

  • The median age: 47.

The intrigue: Despite all of it, unlike other states like Nebraska, Iowa's uniquely maintained a larger rural population than other states because of the easy commute into cities for rural workers, Orazem says.

  • Job centers and metros are also dispersed evenly around the state, with Cedar Rapids in the east and Sioux City and Council Bluffs in the west.

Between the lines: Immigration and refugees have helped sustain rural areas, while domestic migration has drawn people away.

  • In 2022, Iowa lost nearly 7,300 people to domestic migration, but gained nearly 7,300 international migrants, according to the census data.
  • The state and U.S. need to develop policies to ease workforce immigration if they want to slow rural Iowa's bleeding population, Orazem says.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more