By Grant Schulte
DES MOINES — Iowa’s population grew increasingly urban in the past decade as residents continued to leave rural counties and flock to a handful of larger cities, 2010 Census data released Thursday show.
Four of the state’s five biggest cities grew from 2000 to 2010, but only a third of its 99 counties did so.
Seven of those counties — all near urban centers — grew more than 10%. Five counties in rural western Iowa lost at least 10% of their residents.
The losses in rural Iowa are driven by a movement from factories and other goods-producing industries to more retail businesses, according to Iowa State University sociologist David Peters. He also attributes some of the losses to the combination of older residents dying and younger Iowans leaving for the bigger cities.
He predicts rural Iowa will continue a historic trend of merging school districts and other government services.
Fewer jobs will exist, Peters says, and small towns will slowly vanish.
“What we’re going to see by midcentury is a vastly depopulated Corn Belt and Great Plains,” Peters says. “You’re going to see ghost towns reappear.”
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The Census counted 120,031 more Iowans in 2010, a 4% increase from a decade earlier. More than half of that growth (58%) came from Hispanics. The number of Hispanics hit 151,544, up from 82,473 in 2000 — an 84% increase.
The increase in Hispanics is evidence that the state fared better economically than others, says Mark Grey, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Northern Iowa.
Grey says many are immigrants who found work in factories, slaughterhouses and farms.
“The reason they’re here is because we employ them,” Grey says. “I think this indicates you still have industries that are still very dependent on this workforce.”
David Cook-Martin, a sociologist at Grinnell College in central Iowa, says some Hispanics may have come to Iowa after working in larger cities that were hit harder by the economic downturn.
“Most people don’t want to leave where they’re from,” Cook-Martin says. “Economics has been a huge factor, but that gets lost in the heat of the debate these days. It takes something to move people from where they are. Going from a place like Los Angeles or Chicago or New York to a place like Iowa, takes some prompting.”
Polk County, the state’s largest and home to the capital city of Des Moines, expanded by 15%.
Linn County grew more than 10% despite a massive flood in 2008 that ruined thousands of homes and buildings. Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, gained 18%.
Much growth took place in the Des Moines suburbs, including West Des Moines, up 22%; Ankeny, up 68%; and Urbandale, up 36%.