Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A fresh look at US population trends

The United States Census Bureau completed its constitutionally mandated population count last year and has been gradually releasing data and analysis of the results. The most important information, that of state population totals, required to provide the basis for re-apportionment of seats in the US Congress as required by the Constitution was released first.

In March of this year the Census released Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010, a report with more detailed data and some high-level analysis. The results of the count show significant changes taking place.

The decade ending in 2010 saw the US population increase by 9.7 percent, the lowest rate of increase since the Depression decade of the 1930's. It seems quite possible that the current decade may see even slower growth. Another US government agency, the National Center for Health Statistics reported in Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2009, that births in the US declined in 2008 and 2009 (the most recent data available). Well known analyst Calculated Risk noted here that "it is common for births to slow or decline during tough economic times in the U.S. - and that appears to be happening now." Combining this trend with the fact that a large segment of the "baby boom" population will reach 65 years of age by 2020 (with the associated higher mortality due to age-associated factors) provides grounds for a prediction of slower population growth.

The Census divides the US into four regions for comparison purposes: Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. By 2010 the population of the West region (at 71.9 million) surpassed that of the Midwest region (at 66.9 million), of course for the first time. Political power will shift due to the transfer of House seats out of states in the Midwest; and in economic terms the Midwest has weakened significantly.

Population growth was heavily concentrated; only six states accounted for more than half of the total. The six are Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona. The highlighted states also were key components of the national housing boom and crash. Overall, the national population is concentrated in metropolitan areas with roughly 84% of residents living in designated metro areas. In addition, 1 of every ten residents lived in either the New York or Los Angeles metro areas.

By contrast, several fringe regions continued to lose population or remained stagnant, including an area of the Appalachians, the Great Plains, the Mississippi Delta and northern border areas. This shift from outlying areas to core regions indicates that urbanization is continuing.

Slow, concentrated growth with continued migration south and west seems to be the outlook until the next census is conducted.

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