New Population Estimates Show Promise

Recently released population estimates show signs that Wisconsin’s migration challenge might be turning. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 7,040 more people moved to the state in 2018 than left it. This comes on the heels of a positive net in-migration of 4,165 in 2017.

These numbers are confirmed by IRS figures which also show a small positive shift in migration over those two years.

While the numbers seem small for a state with more than 5.7 million residents, they point to what might be an important shift for the state. For most of the past decade, more people have left the state than have moved here from elsewhere.

The new figures also show a big migration shift for northern counties. During 2011-16, the rural north lost an average of 605 residents per year from migration. In 2017 and 2018, Census figures indicate there was a net in-migration of nearly 2,000 people per year. The IRS figures show even larger gains of almost 8,000 per year.

Census figures show relatively large shifts were seen in several counties. Polk County in northwest Wisconsin lost an average of 106 residents per year during 2011-16, but gained an average of 205 per year during 2017 and 2018.

In northeastern Wisconsin, Marinette County went from losing 106 per year to gaining 199 annually over the past two years. The state’s largest county, Milwaukee, continued to see net out-migration. It lost an average of 4,698 residents during 2011-16 and an average of 8,535 during 2017-18. Dane County continued to gain, adding just over 3,000 residents per year during 2017 and 2018. During the prior six years, net in-migration averaged 3,919 per year.

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