Discover the Largest Cities in Nebraska (By Population, Total Area, and Wealth)
Nebraska is one of the more sparsely populated states, but it has made outsized contributions to the national economy and culture. It’s the third largest corn-producing state in the country – a crop vital not only as a human food source but for livestock feed and the production of clean biofuels. Nebraska is the home of Kool-Aid, Arbor Day, the 911 emergency phone number, and the U.S. Strategic Command. It’s also home to Berkshire Hathaway, the multi-billion-dollar firm headed by Omaha native Warren Buffet, currently the 6th richest person in the world. Most people think of Nebraska as a rural state, but in fact, about 73% of the population is urban. Find out more as we explore the largest cities in Nebraska by population, area, and wealth.
Nebraska’s Population and Economy
Paradoxically, Nebraska is large and small at the same time. In land area, it’s enormous. With over 77,000 square miles of territory, it’s the 16th largest state. But with only 1.9 million people, its population is so small it ranks 37th in the nation. It produces a third of the country’s corn, a crop that brings in $10 billion a year, and it is 4th in beef production. Yet its economy is just 36th in the nation, accounting for only 0.6% of the total American economy.
Is Nebraska Urban or Rural?
Along with these contradictions, Nebraska is both an urban and a rural state. The vast majority of the state’s land area is rural farmland and wilderness. However, about 73% of the population lives in an urban area. What does “urban” mean in Nebraska, though? Nearly half the people in the state live in Omaha and Lincoln, large cities in the southeast. But 89% of Nebraskan cities have fewer than 3,000 people. And even Nebraska’s urban areas and suburbs have a distinctly rural and even wild feel to them. In the summer of 2023, a mountain lion was spotted on numerous doorbell cams in urban Omaha neighborhoods. Bobcats, coyotes, deer, hawks, and other wildlife are not an infrequent sight in growing communities like Papillion, an exurb of Omaha, where sprawling new development is displacing wildlife.
The Largest Cities in Nebraska by Population
Omaha is by far the largest city in Nebraska by population and the 40th largest city in the country. With 487,300 people, it’s comparable to Miami, FL. The entire metro area served by Omaha is over one million people, approximately the population of Austin, TX.
The Largest Cities in Nebraska by Land Area
On average, U.S. cities have about 355 square miles of territory. The largest city in the country by land area is Sitka, Alaska, at 2,870 square miles. Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city by land area with a little over 127 square miles. This means that it is smaller than the average American city.
|City||Land Area (in square miles)|
The Wealthiest Cities in Nebraska
The median household income in the United States is $74,580. The two wealthiest cities in Nebraska, Papillion and Gretna, exceed this level by $10-20,000. Most of the wealthiest cities in Nebraska are located in the southeast, a close drive to Omaha or Lincoln (cities that lie just 45 minutes apart). Gretna, Papillion, Bellevue, LaVista, and Ralston are all urban communities immediately to the south of Omaha. Schuyler is an hour west of Omaha and Columbus is another 50 minutes beyond that. Seward is 30 minutes west of Lincoln. Gering and South Sioux City are the only two cities on this list that are fairly distant from the Omaha-Lincoln corner of the state. Gering is a suburb of Scotts Bluff in the far west, very close to the Wyoming border. As the name suggests, South Sioux City is just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, SD.
|City||Median Household Income|
|10||South Sioux City||$57,783|
Nebraska is Full of Surprises
Most people think of Nebraska as a rural state. Unfortunately, in some folks’ minds “rural” is synonymous with words like “poor” and “ignorant.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Non-farming jobs are scarce in large swaths of the state, so people migrate to the cities. However, to be successful, farmers must have sharp business skills, familiarity with the most up-to-date scientific farming practices, complex mechanical abilities, and the ability to use expensive, high-technology equipment effectively. Modern farming is a multimillion-dollar enterprise that cannot be accomplished profitably by a person without a great deal of intelligence and acumen in several disciplines.
Even so, as we’ve seen in this article, stereotyping Nebraskans as “rural” people misjudges the three out of four of them who live in urban areas. Omaha is one of the top 40 largest cities in the country. It’s home to Warren Buffett, the 6th richest billionaire in the world. Papillion and Gretna have median household incomes much higher than the national average. Large numbers of Nebraskans work at Offutt Airforce Base, where the U.S. Strategic Command manages the country’s nuclear detection and defense capabilities. The larger cities have significant immigrant populations, particularly from East Africa and the Middle East. So, Nebraska really is full of surprises. Visit sometime. And don’t be surprised if you want to stay.