The U.S. population grew by 0.79% over the last year, just slightly faster than the previous year’s growth rate but still among the slowest rates in decades. While the nationwide growth was slow, population increased much more rapidly in other parts of the country.
Over the past five years, many of these same cities have seen even more significant increases in population. In 26 metropolitan areas, populations grew by more than 10% since 2010 compared to the 3.9% national growth over that period. The population of The Villages, Florida, grew by more than that of any other metro area, increasing by 26.1% over the last five years.
While natural growth — births minus deaths — is certainly a factor in changing regional populations, migration is almost always the largest driver of population change. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., William Frey, senior demographer at public policy think tank Brookings Institution, explained that the high population growth rates in this group of cities are indicative of a longer-term trend in U.S. migration. Specifically, movement from the central and northern parts of the country to the South, Southwest, and the Southeast, have been driving U.S. population changes in the past few decades.
Frey explained that this trend slowed somewhat during the recession, as many of the metropolitan areas with the fastest growing populations struggled with severe housing market and economic crises. “Some of these places in the sun belt — especially Phoenix and Las Vegas — took real big hits back from the end of the recession on until just a few years ago,” Frey said. As the economy has recovered, population growth in some of these cities has picked up again.
> Population growth (2010-2015):11.91%
> Total population: 6,656,947
> Per capita income: $54,820
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Like many major cities with substantial population growth rates in the past few years, Houston has likely attracted new residents with its relatively robust economy and abundant job opportunities. However, according to Frey, the area’s economic and population growth may be slowing today as a result of declining oil prices.
The importance of a healthy regional economy to strong population growth is evidenced by the job markets in most of these metropolitan areas. The unemployment rate in 14 of the 20 fastest growing metro areas is lower than the national jobless rate of 5.0%. These robust economies attract young workers, who move with their families from other parts of the country. For this reason, many of the cities with the greatest population growths tend to have very young populations, Frey said.
Not every rapidly-growing city has an extremely young population. In fact, a number of these locations are retirement destinations. As members of the baby boomer generation continue to retire, they are moving to these places in droves. “..normally you would say that migration is a young person’s game, but some of these Florida areas may be attracting some baby boomers as well,” Frey noted. In four of the fastest growing metropolitan areas, more than 20% of the population is a senior citizen, compared to the national share of 14.5%. In the Villages, more than half of the population is 65 or older.
Whether the high population growth rates in these cities are sustained depends in many cases on the state of the global energy market. Several of the fastest growing metropolitan areas are in Texas and North Dakota — states that have benefitted from oil booms. However, after the sharp decline in oil prices, some speculate that North Dakota’s economy may begin to falter. Frey added that the depressed oil market may also affect the population growth rate of Houston, by far the largest city on this list.
Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed population changes in the 381 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas from July 2010 through July 2015. Poverty rates, educational attainment rates, and workforce composition came from the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey. Data on incomes and price levels as of 2014 and 2010, respectively, are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unemployment rates are for January 2016, and annual unemployment rates for 2010 and 2014 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Metro area GDP per capita income are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and are in 2010 dollars.