Wednesday, March 28, 2018

New Census Bureau Population Estimates: What it says and why it matters?

By Katie Thomas, Project Associate

The U.S. Census Bureau just released its 2017 population estimates for counties and Metro/Micro Areas. The new data release includes population estimates and the components of population change. Although details related to age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin won’t be released until June, there are some interesting findings related to the growth and the factors that influence that growth – natural change (births minus deaths), domestic migration, and international migration.

Without further ado, here are a few key findings.

  • The largest-gaining metropolitan areas continue to be primarily located in the South. Florida, Georgia, and Texas accounted for six of the top ten metros with the largest gains.
  • The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX metro area had the largest gain with an over-the-year net increase of nearly 150,000 residents.
  • In contrast, the many of the fastest growing metropolitan areas are located in the Midwest and West and includes states such as Utah, Colorado, Oregon, and Idaho.
  • The fastest-growing metro, St. George, UT, saw its population increase by four percent between 2016 and 2017.
  • Net domestic migration is driving population growth in the fastest growing counties and metros.
  • Roughly 43 percent of counties (1,342 counties) lost population between 2016 and 2017. Additionally, 38.2 percent of counties (1,200) had a natural decrease where the number of deaths in the county was greater than the number of people born.
  • Approximately 53 percent of counties (1,661) showed positive net migration between 2016 and 2017. The remaining counties had more people moving out than moving in.

The Census Bureau also recently released its 2017 National Population Projections. The new projections estimate that by 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65 and that one in every five residents will be retirement age. By 2035, there will be more people over the age of 65 than people under the age of 18 for the first time in U.S. history. The number of people over the age of 85 is also projected to double by 2035. At the same time, the population will continue to diversify. The population of people that are two or more races is projected to grow the fastest while the non-Hispanic White population is projected to shrink in the coming decades.

Taken together, the population estimates and the projections raise many important questions that communities should be asking themselves. What are the communities that are experiencing healthy growth doing that we are not? What qualities and traits do they have that we are missing? If your community is experiencing negative net migration, why are more people moving out than moving in? Where are they moving to and why? Does your community have enough health care workers and a sufficient pipeline to meet the increased demand for health care services tied to aging ailments? Can residents in your community age in-place? Will there be enough quality housing and transportation options available for older residents? Do you have an open and welcoming community where residents from all background have the same opportunities to thrive? The list goes on, but these are just a few questions that immediately come to mind.

The new data also, again, further underscores the importance that migration – both international and domestic – has on a community. The current trajectory for shrinking counties is not a positive story. Negative net migration ultimately has significant implications on a community’s long-term economic growth, prosperity, and well-being. Communities that continue to shrink will need to take impactful and meaningful actions in order to stabilize and grow their populations and to change their paths onto more prosperous ones.

As a data lover, I always enjoy looking at new data when they’re released and seeing what they say. The data is a chance for all counties and metro/micro areas to benchmark where they are and see where they stand compared to their peer communities. It can be a call to action or just a reminder of the importance of data and measuring one’s progress. If you don’t like where you’re at then change your story and change your path. Status quo simply will not suffice. If nothing changes then it won’t be due to the lack of available data, it will be due to the lack of action and a failure to translate data into meaningful change.

And as always, if you don’t have the tools or resources to make that happen, give us a call. Economic and community development is a team sport; maybe it’s time to bring some new players to the table.