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According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 23.8 km² (9.2 mi²). 23.2 km² (9.0 mi²) of it is land and 0.5 km² (0.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 2.07% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 20,971 people, 8,302 households, and 5,562 families residing in the city. The population density is 902.7/km² (2,337.3/mi²). There are 8,818 housing units at an average density of 379.6/km² (982.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 94.19% White, 0.45% African American, 0.35% Native American, 0.48% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.49% from other races, and 1.00% from two or more races. 6.65% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 8,302 households out of which 34.7% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.7% are married couples living together, 8.9% have a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% are non-families. 28.5% of all households are made up of individuals and 12.3% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.50 and the average family size is 3.09.
In the city the population is spread out with 28.2% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 28.0% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 14.6% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $38,874, and the median income for a family is $48,669. Males have a median income of $30,980 versus $22,063 for females. The per capita income for the city is $18,345. 6.9% of the population and 4.5% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 7.7% are under the age of 18 and 6.5% are 65 or older.
Columbus bills itself as a "City of Power and Progress" and features an economy based on agriculture and manufacturing, with many industrial companies attracted by cheap, plentiful hydroelectric power. Among the major employers are Archer Daniels Midland, which runs a corn milling plant, Appleton Electric, Dale Electronics, Becton-Dickinson, a medical equipment company, Behlen Manufacturing, a maker of steel buildings, Lindsay Manufacturing, an irrigation equipment manufacturer, and the Nebraska Public Power District, which is headquartered in Columbus.