Several Northwoods counties surprised people studying demographic trends when the 2020 census data was released.
They expected the population to decline in rural counties, but nine counties in Wisconsin thwarted that trend.
Census data from 2000 to 2010 showed that rural Wisconsin counties are losing just under 1% of their population.
Many analysts expected the decline to continue in the next census, but the opposite has happened.
The rural population of the counties increased by about 1.6%.
This growth was primarily driven by nine counties in northern Wisconsin, including Vilas, Oneida, Iron and Florence counties.
Dale Knapp is the Director of Forward Analytics. Forward Analytics is the research arm of the Wisconsin County Association. The group recently released a report on the 2020 census data and what it means for Wisconsin counties.
The growth comes from people moving to those counties.
Knapp says that while remote workers living here during the pandemic likely played a role, it was a small one.
âMore likely, we think that in the decade the first baby boomers retired in the last 10 years. We think there’s a good chance that a significant number of these people will retreat to their vacation homes in northern Wisconsin or to a vacation home they’ve purchased, âKnapp said.
While the retiree population in the Northwoods has increased, the youth population has not increased.
The state’s under-18 population fell 4.3% between 2010 and 2020.
The rural counties suffered the greatest losses. Lincoln County saw the biggest decline, with the under-18 population dropping 14.3%.
On top of that, 29 rural counties have recorded more deaths than births over the past decade.
This combination is bad news for employers already struggling with a shrinking workforce.
âThis presents a lot of problems for your workforce, your jobs, etc. This then affects the tax base and public services. It puts a lot of stress in a lot of areas in the long run, so we see this growth that looks superficially healthy, but when you dig below it there are still a lot of challenges, âKnapp said.
Knapp says once the places start to decline it’s hard to reverse it.