Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New Report Details How 2 Rural Towns Managed Demographic Change and Now Benefit From It
Press Release

RELEASE: New Report Details How 2 Rural Towns Managed Demographic Change and Now Benefit From It

Press Contacts

  • Rafael Medina

Washington, D.C. — Lexington and Madison—rural Nebraska towns of 10,090 and 2,634 residents, respectively—had a combined foreign-born adult population of only 124 people in the 1990 U.S. census. A new Center for American Progress report shows that three decades later, nearly half of Lexington’s adult population and one-third of Madison’s adult population were born outside the United States. Hailing from all corners of the world, newcomers accounted for 100 percent of the population growth between 1990 and 2016 in the two thriving towns. The two rural Nebraska towns now boast revitalized business districts, booming housing markets, successful schools, and sustainable population growth.

The new report, based on in-depth field work conducted in Lexington and Madison, Nebraska, relays the challenges and successes the towns encountered adapting to newcomers and offers a road map for other small, rural communities at the beginning stages of such change. It includes a discussion of actions taken by the towns’ local governments, the important role of anchor institutions such as schools and the private sector, and community resiliency.

The report builds on a prior CAP analysis that found that among the 2,767 rural places identified in that analysis:

  • The adult population declined 4 percent—a 130 percent growth among immigrants offset a 12 percent decline in the native-born population.
  • Of these places, 1,894, or 68 percent, saw their population decline between 1990 and 2012–2016.
  • In 78 percent of the rural places studied that experienced population decline, the decline would have been even more pronounced if not for the growth of the foreign-born population. Without immigrants, the population in these places would have contracted by a collective 30 percent—even more staggering than the 24 percent contraction they actually experienced.
  • In the 873 rural places that experienced population growth, more than 1 in 5, or 21 percent, can attribute the entirety of population growth to immigrants.

“Managing change is challenging—especially rapid demographic change. Small and rural communities are often conflicted about the extent to which their demographic and economic vitality should depend on newcomers,” said Sara McElmurry, nonresident fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the report. “Yet Lexington and Madison offer encouraging examples of how proactivity and practicality—coupled with time—can help communities embrace the nation’s multicultural destiny and emerge stronger for their collective efforts.”

Click here to read: “Proactive and Patient: Managing Immigration and Demographic Change in 2 Rural Nebraska Communities” by Sara McElmurry

The report will be released in conjunction with a CAP event at 10:30 a.m. ET. The livestream is available here.

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For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Rafael Medina at rjmedina@americanprogress.org or 202.478.5313.