The Census Bureau just released its 2015 county population estimates.
And economist Jed Kolko argued in a recent blog post that there were two key patterns in the data:
First, the South and West are growing faster than the Northeast and the Midwest.
Second, the population is growing faster in suburban areas than in urban counties.
Regarding the first point, Kolko writes that the South and West both had population growth of 1.2% in 2015, while the Northeast and Midwest saw growth of 0.2%.
Population growth in the South and West has outpaced that of the Northeast and Midwest for decades, but in the aftermath of the housing bust between 2008 and 2012, the gap between the two groups narrowed. However, since 2013, Kolko notes, the South and West again started to accelerate, while the Northeast and Midwest started to slow.
That trend continued in the last couple years, as can be seen in this map showing which counties saw more people move out than in and vice versa based on the new Census data:
As for the second pattern, Kolko shared a chart showing that suburban counties (defined by Kolko as those with between 500 and 2,000 households per square mile in the 2010 census) grew by around 1%, while growth in urban counties (those with at least 2,000 households per square mile) slowed to 0.8% — the lowest level since 2007.
Population growth in suburbs has outpaced that of urban areas for decades, a trend which was amplified by the housing boom when even more people were incentivized to buy a house and move to the suburbs. But this trend reversed course after the housing market crashed. All of a sudden, suburban and rural growth slowed down and urban growth picked up.
But now the latest data suggest that longer-term trends favouring suburbs and the sunbelt are making a comeback, Kolko argues. Although there was a brief period in the aftermath of the housing boom/bust during which growth trends seemed to reverse course, things are starting to get back to the way they were in the pre-bubble days.
“After volatile swings in growth patterns during last decade’s housing bubble and bust, long-term trends are reasserting themselves,” he wrote in his post.
“Local population growth trends are reverting to pre-2000 patterns as the housing bubble and its aftermath recede.”