Census Bureau: Texas, Wyoming post big population increases

Thursday, December 24, 2009 - 11:38am

Americans, it seems, still have a love affair with the West. Texas and Wyoming were the big winners in the Census Bureau's annual population estimates, which were released on Wednesday.

In the year ended July 1, Texas added more people than any other state, and Wyoming had the highest growth rate in the nation.

The population of the United States has grown more than 9% to 307,006,550 since the 2000 census. The population grew 0.86% since last year's estimates.

Just three states shrank during the year. Michigan's population fell by 0.33%, Maine dropped 0.11%, and Rhode Island lost 0.03%.

(State population actually contracting is different than a net domestic migration loss, which just measures the number of people moving in versus the number of people moving out. Population is also impacted by the birth rate and foreign migration.)

The report is a kind of sneak preview of the next big 10-year census, which will be released in December 2010.

The 10-year census determines congressional representation and federal aid, among other things.

"The census counts will not only determine how many U.S. House seats each state will have but will also be used as the benchmark for future population estimates," said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves.

In Nevada, for example, the population has risen 32.27% since the 2000 Census, more than any other state in the past decade. Nevada currently has three seats in the House and will almost certainly pick up another as a result of its population growth.

On the other hand, large states that have grown slowly over the past nine years such as Ohio (1.67%), Pennsylvania (2.64%), New York (2.98%) and Michigan (3.13%) could lose at least one seat each.

The future of the so-called Sand States - California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida - is still in question, though. The rapid rise of many of these states through the early part of the decade has been curtailed by the housing crisis.

In Florida, which averaged about 2% a year in population growth from 2001 through 2005, residential numbers inched up only 0.62% during the 12 months ended July 1. In the previous 12 months, the state recorded only a 0.71% gain.

A similar dynamic played out in Nevada. Its average population increase was 3.6% per year in the five years through 2005, but the state grew only 1% this time. And the growth was due primarily to the birth rate, not people actually moving in.

Both Nevada and Florida actually had more people leave the states than arrive. "More people are moving out of Nevada than are moving in," said Greg Harper, a demographer with the Census Bureau. "That's a real change. For 18 years, it was the fastest growing state."

He added that Florida has had a net loss in domestic migration the past two years after posting the largest net gain in domestic migration for most of the 2000s. The state led the nation as recently as 2005 with nearly 266,000 more people moving into Florida from other states than moved out.

Many communities in these bubble states now have long lists of homes for sale. New construction has slowed, idling workers and hurting local economies.

Some of the once-booming cities in the Central Valley of California, such as Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Merced, El Centro and Visalia, are now plagued by job losses. Seven out of the 10 metro areas with the highest unemployment rates are in California.

Other Sun Belt states have fared much better. Texas, for example, never went through the boom-and-bust housing cycle that devastated the Sand States. Home prices remained affordable, and the state's unemployment rate was 8% in October, a full two percentage points below the national average.

So, it's no surprise that Texas added more than 3.9 million residents during the 2000s. Its population also grew by the greatest number of people (478,000) during the 12 months ended July 1. California was second with 381,000 followed by North Carolina with 134,000.

Wyoming boasted the fastest growth rate for the 12-month period: 2.12% to a total of 544,270. The Cowboy State was followed by Utah (2.1%), Texas (1.97%) and Colorado (1.81%).