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Population trends affect housing in South Dakota
Abandoned farmstead in rural Brown County, S.D. Photo by Heidi Marttila-Losure

Population trends affect housing in South Dakota

Abandoned farmstead in rural Brown County, S.D. Photo by Heidi Marttila-Losure


By Ryan Clay, Dakotafire Media


South Dakota’s population is changing, and as a result, so is housing in South Dakota. The shift in population from younger to older, and from rural to urban, was the focus of School of Mines professor Sid Goss’ presentation at the 2012 South Dakota Housing and Development Association conference in Pierre this November.
Goss, a professor of sociology at the S.D. School of Mines, explained that while South Dakota’s population is growing, more than 70 percent of that growth is happening in Sioux Falls and surrounding communities. In most of the state’s counties, including the Dakotafire region, the population is dropping, due to both outmigration and an aging population with a high death rate.  More than half of the state’s population now lives in six of the state’s 66 counties, and those counties are where the housing market still remains strong.

“The biggest percentage increase, of course, was Lincoln County, which grew by 86 percent,” Goss said. “That is the fourth-fastest growing county in the United States of America.”

In contrast, far fewer homes are being built or sold in rural parts of the state, which is clearly caused by the region’s population changes. Rural counties in South Dakota have been losing population steadily since the 1930s, and the number of farms has been decreasing along with it. South Dakota’s aging population, which has given the state the distinction of having the highest percentage of persons over 100 in the nation, adds to the rural housing challenge: Many elderly move from rural places to larger towns where access to services is more convenient—or, often, where their children and grandchildren have already settled.

Goss also displayed the population pyramids from recent census projections, drawing attention to the dwindling number of people in their 20s in many rural counties. He referred to the small number of young people as a “stranglehold” on these counties that makes economic development very difficult.

Since only a quarter South Dakota’s population growth comes from in-migration, a low number of young people also affects population growth in those “strangled” counties—a problem not shared by counties in the southwestern portion of the state (especially reservation counties), where birth rates are highest. Birth rates make up three-quarters of the population growth in the state, so encouraging young people to relocate to an area to start a family can help boost an area’s population in more ways than one, helping to the fight economic struggles caused by an aging population a great deal.

Goss also said that if a person is living in a city at the age of 30, he or she is likely to stay there for a long time—perhaps the rest of his or her life. If rural communities haven’t convinced young people to return before the age of 30, they may have missed their opportunity.


Ryan Clay is a freelance writer living in Aberdeen, S.D.

S.D. population,
by the numbers

814,180 Population of South Dakota in 2010

7.9 Population increase in South Dakota, 2000-2010

70 Percent of state’s growth that’s happened in or around Sioux Falls

6 Number of South Dakota counties that contain half of the state’s population

60 Number of South Dakota counties that contain the other half of the population

1990 Year in which South Dakota’s number of high school graduates started to decline

1.5 Percentage that the number of S.D. high school graduates is expected to decline by 2021

50 Age that at least half of South Dakota’s health care workers have reached

977,574 Projected population of South Dakota in 2035

14 Percent of South Dakota’s population that was over 65 in 2010

23 Percent of South Dakota’s population that projected to be over 65 in 2035




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