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South Dakota suddenly swells

South Dakota is growing faster than the nation for the first time in more than half a century.

Census reports estimate the state's population grew by 2.4 percent from 2010 to 2012, compared to a 1.7 percent national growth rate.

Every decade since at least 1940, South Dakota has grown more slowly than the nation as a whole.

The state's estimated population stood at 833,354 at the end of 2012, up from 754,844 in 2000.

Davison County has been growing, but not as fast as the state. From 2000 to 2010, the county grew by 4.1 percent compared to the statewide rate of 7.9 percent.

The state's growth could be due to more working adults. Working-age adults, ages 18-65, grew faster than any other demographic group from 1990 to 2010, going from 395,211 to 419,502.

Mike McCurry, a rural sociologist at South Dakota State University, says population growth is affected by three factors: birth rate, death rate and migration. Working adults are likely moving into the state, due at least in part to the recent recession. South Dakota's manufacturing jobs increased 458 percent from 1970 to 2000, while jobs in finance jumped 137 percent and retail grew by 79 percent.

At the same time, the number of South Dakotans earning a living in agriculture has dropped 30 percent.

McCurry is more intrigued by the birth rate.

South Dakota's birth rate of 2.3 babies per woman exceeds that national rate of 2.1 and even tops Mexico's birth rate of 2.2 babies per woman. South Dakota also tops its neighbors:

* North Dakota, 1.9.

* Minnesota and Montana, 2.

* Wyoming, 2.1

* Nebraska, 2.2

The birth rate needed to keep a population steady is 2.1, McCurry said.

What's driving South Dakota's birth rate is difficult to pinpoint, but McCurry notes higher birth rates among American Indians in the state, about 3, and Hutterites, at about 5 babies per woman. The Hutterite rate has come down from a rate of between 10 and 11 babies per woman.

"In 1950, Hutterites were known as the most fertile people in the world," McCurry said.

Age trends are expected to soon shift, with those older than 65 growing at the fastest pace. By 2020, the number of South Dakotans older than 65 is expected to exceed school-age children (5-17) for the first time in recent history.

Meanwhile, the growth story is not true for all parts of South Dakota, as several counties have consistently lost population over the decades while areas including Sioux Falls, the Interstate 29 corridor and the Black Hills show consistent growth trends.

McCurry considers Sioux Falls an outlier, with 2.4 percent annual growth in recent years. But he believes the people leaving the rural areas are moving to so-called micropolitan areas such as Mitchell, Brookings, Aberdeen and Watertown.

"The population growth in the micropolitan areas matches the out-migration of the small communities," he said.