Census shows diversity growing in South Dakota

The U.S. Census Bureau released new numbers this week that show South Dakota's population growth is largely concentrated in urban and racially diverse communities.

A sign is seen during a promotional event for the U.S. Census in Times Square in New York City on Sept. 23, 2020. (Brendan McDermid / Reuters)
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PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota is growing more diverse and more urban, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The share of the state's residents identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native, South Dakota's largest minority group, grew to 11%, while the percentage of residents identifying, either alone or in combination with other racial groups, as Asians (2%), Blacks (3%), Latinos (4.4%) in the state all nearly doubled in 2020 from their numbers a decade ago .

Overall, the state's white-alone population still accounts for 80% of the state's residents in 2020, with 759,608 identifying as white-only. But communities of color saw increases with 98,842 identifying as Native American or Alaska Native, 38,741 as Latino, 26,307 as Black, and 18,489 as Asian. The percentage of the population identifying as white-only or in combination with other racial groups dropped from just under 90% in 2010 to 85.7%.

Overall, South Dakota saw a 8.9% spike to its population, gaining 72,000 residents over the last decade.

The shifts in racial makeup of the state's population also paralleled a growing percentage of the state's residents who live in urban areas, which now stands at nearly 60%. That number, in 1950 for example, stood at only 33%.


The state's largest three counties — Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, which make up the Sioux Falls area, and Pennington County, which encompasses Rapid City — accounted for the largest shares of population growth . Minnehaha grew by nearly 30,000 people to 197,214 in 2020, while Lincoln County shot up from 44,828 to 65,161 persons.

Pennington County, a massive county in terms of land, stretching from the Wyoming border east to Wall, also added 9,000 people to notch 109,222 residents.

Many rural counties in the state lost population over the last decade, including Jerauld, Bon Homme, Fall River and Walworth counties.

The once-every-10-years U.S. Census helps states redraw legislative district maps, and in South Dakota that process is set to start in earnest this fall. Currently, the 105-lawmaker Legislature is made up of 94 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Lawmakers are required by law to draw districts roughly equally in terms of population (which would be roughly 25,000 residents for each district).

"I know you can get sued for anything, but I am extremely proud that 10 years ago we never got sued," said Sen. Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican, at a legislative redistricting meeting in March .

That process has, in the past, been accused of partisan gerrymandering and racial discrimination against Native Americans . Currently, while slightly less than half of the state's registered voters are Republican (and the other half made up almost equally of Democrats and Independents), the GOP controls 90% of the seats in Pierre.

A group seeking to bring a ballot overhaul of the state's process of allowing lawmakers, often GOP dominated, to draw their own legislative districts has gained steam for the 2022 election.

At a legislative redistricting meeting in June , Sioux Falls resident John Claussen called for respecting Sioux Falls' boundaries, noting that of the nine legislative seats encompassing the state's largest city's border, only four are "totally Sioux Falls," with the rest dipping into rural, surrounding areas.


"And I don't think that's fair to the urban or rural vote," Claussen said.

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