Loss of 117 in population has Lovell officials puzzled

By David Peck

Local officials are scratching their heads about the community level results of the 2020 United States census that shows the seemingly growing community of Lovell being hit with a significant drop in population, along with other towns in the county and state.

Results released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that 14 of Wyoming’s 23 counties showed a loss of population from the 2010 census to the 2020 count, including Big Horn County.

Big Horn County census results show a 1.3 percent population loss over the last 10 years with six of the county’s eight municipalities suffering a decline.

Despite projections that the town was growing over the years, the town of Lovell suffered a 5 percent loss from 2010 to 2020, falling from 2,360 to 2,243, a drop of 117 people.

The largest decline in the county in terms of percentage was shown by Manderson, falling 22.8 percent from a population of 114 to 88, a loss of 26 people. Also showing double-digit losses were Deaver, 13.8 percent from 178 to 154 (24 people) and Greybull, 10.6 percent from 1,847 to 1,651 (196 people). Frannie showed a 13.8 percent drop in the Big Horn County portion of the community from 138 to 119 but a 36.8 percent increase in the Park County portion of town, from 19 to 26 for an overall loss of 12 persons – 157 to 145.

Byron showed a loss of 5.2 percent, falling from a population of 593 to 562, a decline of 31 people.

The big winner in the census count was Cowley, growing from 655 people to 762
(107 people), an increase of 16.3 percent, and Burlington grew 9 percent from 288 to 314, gaining 26 people. Basin
grew by three people, 1,285 to 1,288.

Overall, the census count showed Big Horn County losing 147 people over the 10 years,
falling from 11,668 to 11,521, 1.3 percent.

Regionally, Park County grew 5 percent from 28,205 to 29,624, with Powell growing 1.7 percent from 6,314 to 6,419 and Cody up 5.3 percent from 9,520 to 10,028. But Washakie County declined by 9.9 percent, 8,533 to 7,685, with Worland showing a 13 percent loss from 5,487 to 4,773. Hot Springs County fell by 4 percent from 4,812 to 4,621 with Thermopolis falling 9.4 percent from 3,009 to 2,725.

Wyoming grew by just 2.3 percent from 563,626 to 576,851. The nine counties showing growth were Albany, Campbell, Crook, Laramie, Lincoln, Natrona, Park, Sheridan and Teton. Teton County and Laramie County each grew 9.6 percent, Lincoln 8.1 percent. Sublette County
suffered the greatest loss, 14.8 percent.


Lovell officials suspect that the census numbers are not accurate, showing an undercount. It’s a view shared by Town of Lovell clerk/treasurer Valerie Beal and town administrator Jed Nebel, along with realtor Sarah Johnson, vice president of the Lovell Inc. Economic Development board.

“I was surprised, because I would have thought we’d have increased a little bit with the number of new house builds in town,” Beal said. “We’re seeing new building on Doerr Avenue, Richardson Drive and the Legacy Subdivision. So maybe not astronomical growth but an increase.”

Of course, the census count took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a time of political turmoil in the nation. That surely played a role in the undercount, Nebel said.

“I heard of more and more people not filling out the census forms,” Nebel said. “There were a lot of conspiracy theories going around. But I guarantee we had growth.”

“It fell at a really bad time,” Beal added.

The timing of the census was unfortunate, both town officials said, not only because of COVID-19 but because the count generally preceded an influx of people moving to rural areas.

“We didn’t see the growth in 2020 that we’re seeing now – after the census was done,” Nebel said.

Nebel said the budget for water meter taps during the 2020-21 fiscal year was blown up, which was a good “over budget” number to have. He and Beal counted just off the top of their heads the construction of three new duplexes and one triplex, three new homes in the Legacy Subdivision, three homes on 10th Street and others around town, not to mention new subdivisions being planned adjacent to town that will likely be annexed.

“The problem is the timing of when things hit hard here,” Nebel said. “It stinks because it (the population number) is going to be here another 10 years.”

Lower population means less money for local government from state and federal sources of funding.

“Our distribution from anything is based on population,” Nebel said, and he and Beal listed mineral royalties, severance tax, a component of sales tax and gasoline tax distribution and a special fuels tax as a few of the funding sources that will decline with a loss of 117 people, though they said it would be difficult to determine a firm number.

“It’s important to fill it out,” Nebel said of the census form.

Asked if anything could be done to change the numbers, Beal said, “There is an appeal process. We’re looking into it.”

Realtor reaction

As a Realtor, Johnson, too, is puzzled by the census numbers revealed
last week.

“I was perplexed, too,” she said, noting in an email, “We have minimal vacant rentals and way fewer vacant homes in town than I can ever remember. There have also been quite a few construction starts.”

In a follow-up interview, Johnson said the numbers were surprising.

“I was expecting to see increases,” she said. “I didn’t spend a lot of time on it, but based on the prior census I thought the gains (across the board) would be greater than we’re showing. I would have thought we would have been at least steady (in Lovell) from the previous census.

“A lot of the influx has been post-census and is maybe what we’re seeing, but even without the last six to eight months I would have expected more growth. My initial reaction is that it’s an undercount. When I saw the numbers I was definitely surprised.”

Johnson pointed out that, usually when a house is sold, people are moving out as others move in, which might be a wash, but in looking at the community she wondered, “What about the new housing starts and the lower vacancy rate? Those two things alone led me to think we would have a positive number.”

Johnson wondered if the census itself is a big part of the problem.

“It’s a chore,” she said. “Maybe some people just felt it was a bigger chore than they wanted. And they didn’t have a consistent method.”

She noted that some people self-reported via the Internet, but others may have been intimidated by the process. Some families received the old style paper form to fill out. And others were contacted by census takers. And noting the pandemic, she added, “Everyone was out of routine.”

Nebel said he spoke to a census taker last year who was frustrated trying to reach people door to door.

The Wyoming census results were detailed by the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, and yet that same agency produced population estimates over the years showing population growth in Lovell from 2,360 in 2010 to 2,392 in 2019, the exact slow growth the local officials expected. The same chart shows Lovell growing to 2,460 by 2040, the slow, steady growth the town has always experienced.

Another chart by the same agency forecast growth in Lovell reaching 2,498 in 2020, 255 more people than the official count showed, then reaching 2,577 by 2030.

Lovell’s census count of 2,243 is the town’s smallest figure since the 1990 census, when the population was listed as 2,131. Lovell’s census high was 2,508 in 1950.

Cowley has shown steady growth from 366 in 1970 to 455 in 1980, 477 in 1990, 560 in 2000, 655 in 2010 and now 762 in 2020. Byron reached a high of 633 in 1980.