State Watch

Fastest-growing counties show growth in Florida, Western US

Florida, Supreme Court, Congressional districts
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Nearly a decade after the depths of the worst recession in eighty years, a rebounding economy has Americans on the move again — and those looking for a new place to call home are choosing the Sun Belt.

New figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show increasing internal migration fueling much of the growth in Western states and Florida, where the most robust population growth occurred over the past year.

At the same time, residents are moving out of Rust Belt cities in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania at a fast clip, in search of new jobs or as they reach retirement age.

Maricopa County, Ariz., home of Phoenix, gained more than 81,000 new residents between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016, the Census Bureau reported. That means an average of 222 people moved to the Valley of the Sun every day over the last year.

{mosads}It is the first time in eight years that Harris County, Texas, has not occupied the top spot. The home of Houston, Harris added more than 56,000 people in the last year, or 155 new residents a day, good for second place.

Clark County, Nev. — which includes Las Vegas — added 46,000 new residents last year. King County, Wash., and Tarrant County, Texas — containing Seattle and Dallas, respectively each added more than 35,000 new residents. Riverside, Calif., outside of Los Angeles, and Bexar County, Texas, home of San Antonio, each added more than 33,000 new residents.

“Major Sun Belt metros are starting to grow more rapidly,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institute. But, he added: “We’re not where we were in the first part of the 2000s before the recession and the mortgage meltdown came along.”

Much of the population growth in Western and Southern states came from internal migration, the Census figures show, evidence that more Americans are moving after a sharp slowdown during the recession. More than half the growth in Maricopa came from those moving in from other states, while only about one in eight new residents came from other countries.

Frey said there is some evidence that Americans are once again moving out of urban counties and into the suburbs and exurban areas, reviving a trend from pre-recession times. 

Harris County is a good example of that new urban flight: The vast majority of Houston’s growth in the last year came from births, rather than migration. About 16,000 more people moved out of Harris County than moved in last year, while neighboring Montgomery County experienced an influx of more than 14,000 new people.

“There’s a glimmer of movement toward the suburbs and the exurbs coming back,” Frey said.

At the same time, the Rust Belt is bleeding population. About 60 counties lost more than 1,000 new residents over the last year, almost all of them in northern and eastern states.

No county lost more of its residents than Cook County, home of Chicago, which saw its population decline by more than 21,000 people over the last year.

Counties with most population gain 2015-2016 State Gain Per day
Maricopa Arizona 81,360 222
Harris Texas 56,587 155
Clark Nevada 46,375 127
King Washington 35,714 97.8
Tarrant Texas 35,462 97.1
Riverside California 34,849 95.5
Bexar Texas 33,198 90.9
Orange Florida 29,503 80.8
Dallas Texas 29,209 80
Hillsboroughs Florida 29,161 79.9


Counties with most population loss 2015-2016 State Loss Per day
Cook Illinois -37,508 -102
Wayne Michigan -7,696 -21.1
Baltimore City Maryland -6,738 -18.4
Cuyahoga Ohio -5,673 -15.5
Suffolk New York -5,320 -14.6
Milwaukee Wisconsin -4,866 -13.3
Allegheny Pennsylvania -3,933 -10.8
San Juan New Mexico -3,622 -9.9
St. Louis City Missouri -3,471 -9.5
Jefferson New York -3,254 -8.9


Fastest growing counties 2015-2016 State Percent gain
San Juan Utah -7.6
Kendall Texas 5.2
Hays Texas 5.1
Wasatch Utah 4.7
Dallas Iowa 4.6
Comal Texas 4.4
Sumter Florida 4.3
Crook Oregon 4.3
Juab Utah 4.2
Kittitas Washington 4.2

Wayne County, based around Detroit, lost nearly 7,700 people, while Baltimore City and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County each lost more than 5,000 residents. Manufacturing hubs like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis all bled residents as well.

In New York, just 15 counties added population over the last year, most of them in or near the New York City area. Forty-eight counties lost population over the same period. Similarly, 20 counties in Pennsylvania added new residents, while 48 saw their populations decline.

Overall, seven states lost population in the last year: Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi

Small counties in Utah continue to grow at a faster pace than virtually every other state. San Juan County, Utah, home of the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument and bordering the Four Corners, added nearly 1,200 new residents last year, or almost 7.6 percent of its total population. Wasatch and Juab Counties each added more than 4 percent of their total population.

Two Texas counties, Kendall and Hays, exurbs that lie between San Antonio and Austin, each saw their populations grow by more than 5 percent in the last year. Suburbs of Des Moines, and Bend, Ore., and the retirement community The Villages in Florida all land in the top ten fastest-growing counties as well.


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