Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Jacob Misener

Census data paints a clearer picture concerning the needs for reinvigorating Kimball County


More often than not, when people talk about Kimball County, they refer to the ‘good ole’ days’. They speak of the oil boom that helped a local economy thrive and the missile boom that followed in its wake.

What lies in store for Kimball County and its residents? Data from recent United State Censuses, along with several other sources, help paint a clearer picture of the future for the state’s southwesternmost county.

A recent report by ThePlanscape shows that people from all over the country now call Kimball County home, including people from Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona, Illinois and Wisconsin. Of the people that move to Kimball County less than 1/3 are less than 30 years old - a troubling statistic for a region where the median age is already 46 years old. This is almost nine years older than the national average for the United States, which is 36.9 years old.

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, this trend is becoming a worldwide concern, something that has contributed to ballooning healthcare costs in recent years.

“As the first of the nation’s 78 million baby boomers begin reaching age 65 in 2011, they will face a health care workforce that is too small and woefully unprepared to meet their specific health needs,” the report reads.

The attainment of any form of higher education continues to be a major factor in declining tax revenue and economic ingenuity in the area. Census data from 2012 showed that nearly one-third of the American public held a college degree, which was an all-time high for the United States. However, in Kimball County, a mere 18.5 percent of the local population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.

However, something that must be kept in mind is that agriculture continues to be the predominant occupation throughout much of the Nebraska Panhandle. Oftentimes, family farms are passed down from generation to generation, thus eliminating much of the demand, and necessity, of a college education for many.

Another factor in this lower education rate is the fact that the closest higher education institution that enrolls over 2,000 students is over 60 miles away - in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Western Nebraska Community College is closer, but is still over 47 miles from Kimball, the seat of Kimball County.

President Barack Obama has stressed the importance of education, along with many Congressional representatives. In a 2009 speech, the president emphasized the role of education in the nation’s future.

“You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to train for it and work for it and learn for it,” said Obama. “And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. The future of America depends on you.”

Unemployment more than doubled during the Great Recession, with levels rising from approximately 2.2 percent to over 5.0 percent at its peak. These numbers have been gradually declining since 2010, all down to 4.2 percent in July 2013; a good sign for the still-recovering rural economy that dominates Kimball County.

With a recovering economy, population levels have also shown signs of rebounding. In 1970, the population of Kimball County was just over 3,500. It had declined to nearly 2,000 by 2004, but has since rebounded to over 2,400.

Trends that have long been evident to those who call Kimball County home are the same trends that hold the key to the region’s future.

The leadership of Kimball County and the cities within it must begin to dedicate resources to attracting younger, more educated individuals and families in coming years. In these people, the area can not only increase the population’s longevity, but can also hope to draw economic ingenuity, something that has, for the most part, disappeared from Nebraska’s 62nd-largest county.


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