New Population Data from U.S. Census Reveals Increasing Migration to Sunnier Regions

Thursday, March 31, 2016 | Sonali Mathur

Last week, the U.S Census Bureau released new population estimates and its analysis of components of population change for counties and metro areas. This data includes total population estimates for July 1, 2015, total population change, changes in population due to natural increase, and domestic and international migration between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015.

We can see that domestic migration continues on a post-recession path of recovery and with it, long-term patterns of growth and movement to the Sunbelt, slowed by the downturn, are reappearing. Suburban counties in the South are once again attracting the most movers, while northern, largely Midwestern counties are experiencing the greatest population losses.

According to this latest release, the Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix and New York metro areas rounded the top five for net population growth. In Texas, the metro areas of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth saw population growth of 159,000 and 145,000 residents respectively over the past year. Two other metros in Texas—Austin-Round Rock and San Antonio—each grew by 50,000 people, putting them among the top growing metros in the nation. Collectively, these four metros added 412,000 in population. In all, Texas was home to 4 of top 16 metros in terms of population growth, in keeping with state-level data released late last year that showed Texas as the state with the most population growth followed by Florida, California, Georgia, and Washington. Among the top 100 metros, in percentage terms the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL Metro Area saw the highest population gain of 3.3%.

In all, 96 metros lost population over the past year. Among the top 100 metros, the biggest net population loss was in the Chicago area where the population dropped by 6,200, followed by Pittsburgh which lost 5,000 people.

The micropolitan areas saw a net growth of 27,000 with more than half (a total of 261) micro areas gaining population, four of which added more than 2000 people.

At the county level, population growth was also skewed to the south and west with the top 30 counties for total population growth being located in either the South or the West. The top three for net population gains were first Harris County, Texas and Maricopa County, Arizona, followed by Los Angeles County, California. Counties with the largest population losses were Cook County, Illinois which had a net negative population change of nearly 10,500, and Wayne County, Michigan, which had a net negative population change of nearly 6,700 people.

In percentage terms, among counties that had a total of more than 100,000 people in 2015, the top counties that gained the most population growth are in Texas, Hays county (5.2%) and Comal County (4.5%), while the counties that lost the most are San Juan County, NM (-4.2%) and Hardin County, KY (-1.8%). Though these counties with highest percentage losses are in the South and West, overall the counties with largest net losses were overwhelmingly in the Midwest and Northeast, and the ones with the biggest net gains were concentrated in the South.

In addition to overall gains and losses in population in metros and counties, the population estimates data also show components of growth in terms of net gains and losses from international immigration as well as domestic migration, which allow us to see what parts of the country are attracting people from around the country and those that are losing population moving to other areas.

As for domestic migration, top ten counties with highest net inflows were in the Sunbelt states of Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Texas. Maricopa County, Arizona saw the highest net domestic inflow, which was 48% of the net population change in the county. Clark County, Nevada saw the second highest net domestic inflow, which was 54% of the net population change in the county. Lee County, Florida moved up to the third spot from the ninth in 2014 for net domestic inflow, which was 92 % of the net population change in the county.

Los Angeles County, California followed by Cook County, Illinois saw the most net domestic outflow for the second year in a row.

In general, counties and metros that were attractive to domestic migrants also had high levels of international immigration. However, some counties that saw high international immigration, such as Los Angeles County, Miami-Dade County, and Queens County, also saw high domestic out migration. Indeed, in many areas gains from international immigration staved off potentially larger population losses due to domestic migration.

The map below shows the changes in population for each county between July 2014 and July 2015. Click on a county to display its data. Select a tab to map percent change in population, net international immigration or net domestic migration. [May take a few seconds to load. Click on the (i) in the upper right to reveal color key information.]

Detailed explanation of the census bureau methodology.


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