CASPER — America’s least populated state is growing, though much slower than most of the nation.
The U.S. Census Bureau released population data from the 2020 census count Thursday, revealing that nearly every state in the nation grew in the last decade. Of states that did gain population, Wyoming was among the slowest, with a 2.3-percent increase over the last 10 years.
Only Michigan and Connecticut grew slower in the last decade, and Ohio grew at the same rate. Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia were the only states to lose more residents than they gained.
Despite Wyoming’s overall growth, just nine of 23 counties saw a positive population change over the last decade.
Teton and Laramie counties are driving most of that growth, tying with a 9.6-percent increase in population since 2010.
Lincoln County followed in third, with an 8.1-percent increase, and Sheridan and Natrona Counties saw 6.2-percent and 6-percent growth, respectively.
Park County saw 5-percent growth, Albany County had 2.1-percent growth, and Campbell and Crook counties each saw less than 2-percent growth.
Of counties that lost population, Sublette was the worst hit, with a nearly 15-percent decline over the decade. Washakie County was next with a nearly 10-percent loss. Carbon County lost 8.5 percent of its population, and Weston and Goshen counties both lost more than 5 percent of their populations.
Wyoming has also gotten slightly more diverse, though less so than other states that also made gains. The state’s “diversity index,” which indicates the likelihood that two residents chosen at random would be from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, rose from 25.4 in 2010 to 32.4 in 2020.
The non-white populations that experienced the largest growth were the Hispanic or Latino population, which grew from 8.9 percent of the state in 2010 to 10.2 percent last year; and those who are of two or more races, which grew from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 4.1 percent in 2020. Every Wyoming county remains majority white.
The 2020 numbers will be used to allocate a variety of state and federal dollars to every community in the nation. They also provide state and community leaders with demographic data to inform future plans.
“If you’re going to open a business, you want to know how many people are living in your community. If you want to start a restaurant you want to know how many people, divided by the number of restaurants so you know if it’s a saturated market,” State Demographer Wenlin Liu told the Star-Tribune in March 2020, ahead of the count.
Wyoming receives nearly $1 billion in population-dependent federal dollars every year for programs like Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, food programs like SNAP and WIC, and a litany of others.
Liu estimated that from sales and use tax distribution alone, a municipality receives roughly $520 per person annually. That’s more than $5,000 per person for the decade. In a town of 100 people, that’s more than $500,000.
The decennial numbers are used for those allocations instead of the Census Bureau’s other population surveys because it’s supposed to be an exact count of every resident, regardless of age or immigration status, to provide the most comprehensive understanding of the population needs in each community.
In March 2020, the Star-Tribune analyzed census population estimates from 2019 to gauge which Wyoming communities stood to gain — and lose — in the 2020 count.
Some of those estimates were relatively close to the new figures released Thursday. Teton, Lincoln and Laramie Counties were estimated to see the largest population gains, and the actual gains were within 1 percent of the prior estimates.
But several surprises emerged as well. Figures from the 2019 American Community Survey suggested Washakie County would have the largest drop in population from 2010 with an 8% drop. While Washakie County did lose a significant proportion of its population — 9.9 percent — it wasn’t the largest decline.
Sublette County, on the other hand, was only estimated to lose roughly 5 percent of its population but ended up seeing a nearly 15-percent drop.