The Map of Nowhere

A glimpse at the life of the drastically shrinking population of rural Nebraska

Turns out the “Good Life” is measurable.

Looking at U.S. Census data collected between 2010 and 2014, you can see the continuation of a pattern more than a century in the making.

Metropolitan Nebraska is on the rise. In fact, Nebraska grew in population by 2.8 percent, with more than 51,000 new Husker fans joining us between 2010 and 2014.

But these people are, of course, moving to Sarpy, Douglas and Lancaster counties, which house the Omaha area and Lincoln. Sarpy took the top spot, growing 7.8 percent in just four years. There are jobs there and Omaha suburbs to expand and fill.

But if you take those three counties away, Nebraska lost more than 1,000 people in four years.

It’s an old tale, a slow exodus of citizens moving from rural areas to urban. These days, only one of every five U.S. residents lives in a rural area. But going back only 150 years, the majority of Nebraskans lived in rural areas. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that urban areas became more and more tempting to those who had grown up out on the homestead.

What becomes of the towns outside the glowing lights of Lincoln and Omaha? What of those who’ve made their homes among the Sandhills and the plains?

They begin to disappear. Those who do stay lose neighbors and resources. Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 62 saw a population decrease between 2010 and 2014. And many of those counties don’t have much more to give away.

But those who call small-town Nebraska home still find ways to hold on to their ways and traditions. This year, the Daily Nebraskan’s annual endowment issue looks to shine a light on these people and the triumphs and losses of living in the sparsely-populated parts of the state. This issue contains stories of towns mending after tornadoes to towns who have accepted their eventual disappearance, and the people in between.

Join us for a glimpse at the shrinking of rural Nebraska.


Editor-in-chief: Chris Heady

Managing Editor: Mara Klecker

Web Design: Alex Lucke and Lexie Heinle

Editors: Lani Hanson, Mike Shoro, Josh Kelly, Andrew Barry, Madeline Christensen, Gabriella Martinez-Garro, Alex Lucke

Reporters: Bailey Schulz, Cody Nagel, Riley Bowden, Tyler Keown, Sarah Wontorcik, Marcella Mercer, Nick Niendorf, Seth Olson

Photographers: Zach Henke, Calla Kessler, Adam Warner, James Wooldridge, Allison Hess, Tyler Meyer

Video: James Wooldridge, Tyler Meyer, Elijah Watson