An economist at Iowa State University says new data released Thursday by the Census Bureau confirmed what she and others have suspected for some time – the population in rural Iowa is shrinking at a rapid rate.

Liesl Eathington says the report produced few surprises. “I think the only thing that is surprising is maybe the slightly more rapid growth in the Hispanic population,” Eathington said. “It was the fastest growing group in the state.” Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic/Latino population in Iowa grew by 84%. However, that group still only represents 5% of Iowa’s total population.

The Census data shows 66 of Iowa’s 99 counties had population declines over the decade. The biggest drops were in rural western Iowa – Pocahontas, Sac, Calhoun, Aubudon and Adams counties.

Some of Iowa’s larger cities lost residents – including Sioux City, Waterloo, Dubuque, Mason City, Clinton and Burlington. “A lot of cities with more traditional economies have really been struggling this decade and even before that,” Eathington said. “It’s going to be a challenge for them, especially given the restructuring that we’ve had in our economy after this recession. There may be some losses in manufacturing jobs that might not come back.”

Iowa’s two largest cities, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, both gained residents but the percentage increases were relatively small – 2.4% in Des Moines and 4.6% in Cedar Rapids. Those cities’ suburbs, meanwhile, posted population gains of up to 68%.

The population of Dallas County increased by 62% over the decade. Johnson County, which includes Iowa City, posted the second largest percentage gain at 17.9%.

Eathington is interested in seeing the next round of Census data, which will include details on the ages of residents in Iowa’s cities and counties. “That’ll have real important implications for size of the labor force in some of our non-metro areas if we’re continuing to lose young adults at the same rate that we have been. That’s going to be an area of real concern,” Eathington said.

Statewide, Iowa’s population grew by 4.1% from 2000 to 2010 with a total of 3,046,355 residents.

For more on the Iowa Census, click here.