The Washington Post last week mapped out population changes that projected a worrisome picture of our corner of the world.
The Post’s map of every U.S. county showed where the population grew and where it declined. The display singled out the Great Plains and industrial Midwest as lagging many other regions in growth.
But while the challenges are real, the maps left out some positive aspects of the story Midlanders should consider this Labor Day.
Our region was among the slowest-growing nationally in a vital demographic, the number of young people age 25-34. Large increases of people in that age group often are a sign of available workers, as well as current and potential parents. They are the lifeblood of growing places.
The map showed slow growth or declining population over parts of our region, as well as slow growth in the number of residents age 25-34. However, there were islands of growth — mainly urban clusters around Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Des Moines. Some other Plains cities, such as Oklahoma City, are bucking the trend, grabbing headlines for their growth.
And some more good news: People age 25-34 make up more of the total Midlands population now than they did in 1970, thanks in part to immigration and people moving for quality-of-life reasons to smaller, rural counties.
Still, the Post singled us out, saying, “As the nation continues to grow, it’s leaving behind states like Nebraska, which only grew 15 percent between 1970 and 2010.”
Such statements aren’t helpful, nor do they offer a full picture of the region’s future. On this Labor Day, here are some reasons for optimism:
>> Work ethic. Nebraska’s unemployment rate, at 3.6 percent, is about half the national average of 6.2 percent. Iowa’s is just 4.5 percent. Most people who want jobs in the Midlands can find them.
>> Available jobs. We have more jobs open than people qualified to fill them. This summer, the number of open jobs in the Midwest was the highest since 2001, national labor statistics show. Among the areas hiring: office and support staff, sales and related industries, business and financial operations, personal care and service, transportation, logistics and health care. Don’t forget the ever-present need for IT pros, nurses, welders, plumbers and machinists.
>> Manufacturing is healthy here. States outside the Great Plains lost 18 percent of highly skilled manufacturing jobs from 2001-2011. But Plains communities of between 10,000 and 50,000 residents saw a job increase of 5.4 percent, and smaller communities had an increase of 7.7 percent.
>> Available training. The Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership is just one of several groups working hard to help prepare the next generation of workers. It has focused its workforce development efforts on five industries where job growth will have the biggest economic ripple effect, based on regional research. Our reasonably priced community colleges, colleges and universities are working hard to train and retrain people for modern jobs with good pay. State programs and regional unions offer training, too.
>> Young people who come here stay here. People who move to the Midlands for work-related reasons often find comfort and permancence in our quality of life, communities with good schools, nice parks, amenities and friendly neighbors.
Reports of our untimely demise are premature. If you’re not from the Midlands, stop by and see the dynamism of Chadron, Ord or Grand Island. Come see what’s cooking in Omaha. Find yourself a good job and enjoy the good life.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story.