Nebraskans can breathe a little easier, based on the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Our population grew by just 8,800 people between 2018 and 2019, but that will be enough to retain our three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It’s important that we keep the three seats so our delegation can spread its legislative muscle where it’s needed — most importantly, in protecting our No.1 industry, agriculture, against federal intrusions and congressional foibles that can harm farmers and ranchers.

To anyone who believes it’s impossible to lose a seat in Congress, try turning back your calendar 60 years.

We lost our 4th Congressional District seat following the 1960 Census. Democrat Don McGinley of Ogallala was the last politician to represent the 4th District, serving from 1959 to 1960.

Retaining our three seats in the U.S. House is critical, but it may be more important for Nebraska to retain its rural population density. Nebraska’s metropolitan centers are having no problem growing their populations, but for rural communities, it’s another story. Unless they can retain their residents, smaller towns run the risk of losing businesses on main street along with the institutions that contribute to a healthy community: schools, government offices, churches and health care centers.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s sluggish movement — only 8,800 people compared with 2018-2019 — indicates that dynamic growth in metropolitan centers barely is offsetting losses in rural communities and the countryside surrounding them. Folks in Nebraska’s population-challenged communities either are growing old and passing away or growing up and moving away.

For small towns to retain and grow their populations it takes jobs, health care, schools, affordable housing and child care.

Nebraska communities often have the job opportunities, but they might lack housing or health care. For young families, the lack of child care is a deal-breaker.

Clearly, Nebraska must stem the loss of rural population, or we might, after the next census, say goodbye to another House seat.