Although Nebraska faces the same slow population growth challenge affecting some other states, the news that Nebraska has climbed to the top ranks in birth rate provides encouragement. It’s striking, in fact, that Nebraska’s high birth rate is found across such a broad range of women, regardless of race, ethnicity, educational level or income.
It’s far more common for a state to have great birth-rate variability across social groups.
Nebraska’s birth-rate achievement speaks well for the state’s family-friendly reputation and, as The World-Herald’s Henry Cordes reports, should keep the state from losing one of its U.S. House seats after the 2020 Census.
Not that our state is free of challenges. The rising cost of child care means great complications for many families. And in a subsequent editorial we will discuss needed strategies to address Nebraska’s “brain drain” problem.
Nebraska is growing more diverse, meaning schools and higher education institutions must strive to make those students feel welcome and to meet their needs. It’s encouraging to see how schools and universities have commendably made this a priority.
Minority groups contributed more than 50% of the population growth during 2000-2010 in 16 Nebraska counties, or two-thirds of all Nebraska counties that experienced population gains. It’s common in many Nebraska school districts, urban and rural, for students to speak a foreign language in their home. In Omaha Public Schools, such languages total at least 119.
One challenge is to boost ACT college readiness scores for students overall and especially those from minority backgrounds. In the most recent scores for Nebraska, 42% of white students and 38% of Asians met three or all four ACT college readiness benchmarks, compared with 9% of black students, 9% of American Indians and 14% of Hispanics.
Nebraska ranks low nationally in comparing the average educational levels of white adults and minority adults. A 2017 report found that while 52.8% of white Nebraskans, ages 25 to 44, had an associate degree or higher, only 26.5% of minority residents did in that age range. Only one other state had a larger such educational disparity than did Nebraska.
An additional demographic challenge: Urban areas are projected to have an increasing portion of the state’s population. Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties are now home to a majority of Nebraska’s population. Rural and urban interests will clash at times, but it’s in the state’s best interest for those differences to be resolved through dialogue and constructive compromise.
This mix of demographic changes presents opportunities for Nebraska, with a rising population, but also major challenges. Meeting those challenges will require important ingredients: Local civic vision. Coordinated strategies. And political leaders who promote statewide solidarity.