An Iowa State University Department of Economics researcher says jobs are the main factor behind more population losses in Iowa’s small towns. According to a Census Bureau report released last week, more than 600 of Iowa’s 946 cities experienced population declines between 2010 and 2013.
Liesl Eathington, an assistant scientist for the Iowa Community Indicators Program at ISU, says more people are moving to urban areas and they’re drawn there for a variety of reasons. “One would be employment opportunities, two would be access to services, shopping, and the range of choices in schools,” Eathington says. Iowa’s overall population grew by 1.4-percent to 3,090,416. Iowa’s 10 largest cities accounted for 44-percent of the statewide growth. However, three of those cities — Waterloo, Sioux City and Council Bluffs — experienced losses. Fort Dodge, Clinton, and Mason City also lost residents.
Eathington says cities with diverse economies are experiencing the most growth. “If you’ve got a city that is dependent on any one industry and that industry experiences a downturn, that can really have an influence on the health of the region,” Eathington says. “We may be seeing that with some of our more manufacturing dependent cities.”
Iowa cities with fewer than 500 residents were hit the hardest between 2010 and 2013, losing three-percent of their combined population. Eathington says, when analyzing the Census data, she prefers to look at groups of cities for “broader trends,” rather than the rankings of which cities gained or lost the most residents. “The reason I think that’s useful is it helps to temper expectations for growth, especially in some of our smaller or more rural areas,” Eathington says. “If they can see it’s a general pattern and it’s not anything that they’re doing wrong, in terms of policy, I think that can be very helpful in their local planning efforts.”
The Census data shows the fastest growing cities in Iowa are suburbs of Des Moines and Iowa City, as the biggest population booms occurred in Waukee, Tiffin, Ankeny, and West Des Moines.