R Graphics Output

Dots represent the locations of cities and towns (incorporated places) in the population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday. Dots colored with a shade of green represent estimated growth of at least 1 percent. Dots colored with a shade of red represent estimated loss of more than 1 percent. Dots colored gray represent population estimates between minus 1 percent and 1 percent growth. (Dave Askins/Capital Journal)


A bit more than half of South Dakota cities and towns are estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to have shrunk or stayed the same size from July 2016 to July 2017, according to numbers released by the federal agency just after midnight Thursday.

The U.S. Census Bureau releases annual estimates for population, between the census counts, which are done every 10 years.

Of the 312 incorporated places in South Dakota that are included in the dataset released on Thursday, 171 were estimated to have zero or negative growth from 2016 to 2017. That's pretty much the same year-to-year picture the Census Bureau has been estimating for the last few years, since the last actual count was done in 2010.

For the seven-year period from 2010 to 2017, 165 South Dakota cities and towns are estimated by the bureau to have shrunk or stayed the same size.

For the longer period of estimated population figures, the 20 biggest cities in the state all show an upward trend, except for Belle Fourche, which is estimated to have dropped from 5,594 to 5,553, which is a decrease of under 1 percent – 0.77 percent to be exact.

The complete list of top 20 cities for South Dakota with their estimated populations as of 2017 and the percentage change in parentheses are: Sioux Falls 176,888 (14.89), Rapid City 74,421 (8.71), Aberdeen 28,388 (8.75), Brookings 23,938( 8.43), Watertown 22,222 (3.17), Mitchell 15,603 (2.14), Yankton 14,516 (0.32), Pierre 14,004 (2.62), Huron 13,118 (4.14), Spearfish 11,609 (10.24), Vermillion 10,772 (1.83), Brandon 9,957 (11.89), Box Elder 9,498 (21.60), Madison 7,322 (12.66), Sturgis 6,908 (4.18), Harrisburg 5,968 (45.67), Belle Fourche 5,553 (-0.77), Tea 5,448 (43.14), Dell Rapids 3,652 (0.52), Mobridge 3,520 (1.68).

The capital city's new number makes for an estimated increase since 2010 of 2.62 percent, and nudges its population back over 14,000. It dipped below that benchmark the last two years. The count for Pierre in 2010 was 13,646, and was estimated to have risen each year after that until it reached 14,031 in 2014. Estimates for the next two years were below 14,000 – down to 13,985 and 13,969 for 2015 and 2016, respectively.

About the estimated additional 35 residents in Pierre compared to last year's numbers, the city's mayor, Steve Harding, told the Capital Journal, "Certainly it's encouraging. Looking back over the last few years there has not been rapid growth, it's not been hundreds and hundreds of people." Harding said he didn't think he could point to any one thing that might account for the estimated slight increase.

Across the river in Fort Pierre this year’s estimate was lower than last year’s by 7 people – from 2,157 down to 2,150. Even with the downward dip this year, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Fort Pierre's population now at 2.7 percent bigger than the 2078 counted when the census was taken in 2010.

The few tenths of a percent downward estimate in the most recent data was a little bit of a surprise for Fort Pierre's mayor, Gloria Hanson. "I would think we would have net growth," she said, adding, "When you look around and see the growth in new homes, and there's always an issue of not enough housing."

Neither Hanson nor Harding wait each year with bated breath for the new city population estimates to be released. As Hanson put it, "It is what it is."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau documentation on methodology, the procedure for estimating the population of places that smaller than an entire county – like cities and towns – still starts with the county estimates. The county estimates use data on births, deaths, and domestic and international migration – and those estimates are typically released in mid-March each year.

With county estimates in place, the bureau then distributes the population estimates to the smaller areas within a county, using updated figures on housing units in the area.

The estimate for Fort Pierre released Thursday seems consistent with the county estimates released earlier in the year. The bureau estimated Stanley County lost 13 residents between 2016 and 2017, lowering its estimated population to 3,011.

Across the state, the numbers released Thursday confirmed some basic patterns from the earlier county level estimates. Places in the southeastern corner of the state – Sioux Falls and its suburbs to the south, as well as few places to the north of the state's largest city – show some of the most solid growth in the state. Aberdeen anchors an area of growth that extends to the south. Rapid City is part of a corridor of growth that extends from the western edge of the state along I-90 eastward.

The spots of growth along the interstate, as it heads east, are interrupted by Murdo and Draper. Murdo is estimated to have dropped from 488 people in 2010 to 452 in 2017. And Draper is estimated to have dropped from 82 to 71 people.

The population of places along US-385 in the southwest corner of the state, like Custer, Pringle, Hot Springs and Oelrichs are estimated to have declined from 2010 to 2017. A string of places starting with New Witten heading east – Winner, Tripp, Colome, Gregory, Burke, Herrick, Bonesteel and Fairfax – are estimated to have declined or have grown less than one percent over the seven-year period.

Another string of cities on an estimated downward trend, in the middle of the state, is Blunt, Harrold, Highmore, Ree Heights, Miller and St. Lawrence.

The U.S Census Bureau has a program that can be used to challenge its estimates. And in past years, several cities across the county have used it to get their estimates adjusted upwards. Through such a challenge in 2007, Sioux Falls was able to get its 2006 numbers boosted from 142,396 to 148,244, which is about a 4 percent increase.

The statewide trend for South Dakota – based on the numbers released in March – showed an estimated growth of a smidgen under 1 percent between July 2016 and July 2017. The difference between 861,542 in 2016 and 869,666 in 2017 works out to a 0.94 percent increase.

Based on the March estimates, the state has grown 6.8 percent from the 814,180 residents who were counted for the 2010 census. In every year since the last census count, the bureau has estimated at least some incremental growth for South Dakota.

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