State Watch

3 out of 4 US counties had more deaths than births in past year

Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

Nearly 3 in 4 counties across America suffered more deaths than births between the middle of 2020 and the middle of 2021, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as the coronavirus pandemic claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and slowed the nation’s growth rate to its slowest pace in history.

More people died than were born in 2,297 of the nation’s 3,143 counties last year, the largest number of counties to record a natural decrease in American history.

The new figures show more than 3.4 million Americans died in the yearlong period covered by the new data, the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a single year. The figure is 20 percent greater than it was two years ago, before the pandemic began.

Just under 3.6 million children were born over the same period, according to an analysis by Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. That is the lowest number since 1979 — when the United States had 100 million fewer people than it does today.

“The number of deaths have increased dramatically nationally,” said William Frey, senior demographer at the Brookings Institution. “On top of it, you have lower natural increase. People are putting off having children. Put it together and that’s the equation.”

More than 400 counties experienced their first-ever population declines in the last two years, Johnson found.

Population declines were felt most in the Northeast, throughout Appalachia and in many parts of the Midwest. Wide swaths of the Mountain West and West Coast states, long the driver of American population increases, also experienced declines. Every county in Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island experienced population losses over the last year.

Over the last decade, rural America has lost more population than it has gained. But the population decline has now come for America’s largest counties: Eight of the 10 biggest counties in the country lost population over the last year.

The nation’s largest county, Los Angeles, also experienced the greatest population loss over the last year, of more than 159,000 people. New York County, which covers Manhattan, saw its population decline by 6.9 percent; San Francisco County’s population dropped 6.7 percent.

Counties that are home to Chicago, Houston, San Diego, Miami and Dallas, as well as parts of New York and California’s Orange County, all shed residents. For the first time in modern memory, metropolitan areas with more than a million residents lost population, Frey found.

The greatest population increases came in areas with substantial Mormon populations, including Utah, Idaho, Nevada and parts of Arizona. Areas that tend to attract retirees also showed population gains, including many counties in Florida and along the Atlantic Coast in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Maricopa County, home of Phoenix, added 58,000 new residents last year, more than any other county in the country. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area added 97,000 new residents last year, more than any other metro area. Houston, Austin and San Antonio were among the fastest-growing metro areas, along with Atlanta, Tampa, Charlotte and Raleigh.

Five of the 10 counties that experienced the greatest population increases last year were in Texas; two more were in Florida. Four of the 10 counties that added the greatest share of residents were in Florida, three were in Utah and two more were in Idaho.

Nationally, the number of births outpaced the number of deaths in the country by just 148,000, a gap that has shrunk by 84 percent over the last pre-pandemic period two years ago.

The pandemic was responsible for much of the population decline, but not all of it. Many of the other factors — lower birthrates, lower immigration rates, higher mortality from drug overdoses or poor health — predate the pandemic, Johnson wrote in a brief dissecting the data.

“If COVID’s impact wanes later in 2022, the incidence of natural decrease” — when the number of deaths is greater than the number of births — “will likely diminish, but it will not go away,” Johnson wrote. “Even before COVID, the number of deaths was growing annually, while the number of births was diminishing. COVID certainly exacerbated these trends, but over the long term, mortality is likely to continue to rise among the aging U.S. population, and the decline in births, which began during the Great Recession, appears to be ongoing.”

Slowing immigration, a legacy of both the pandemic and the Trump administration’s efforts to cut off the flow of international migrants, meant that the United States grew by just 393,000 last year, the lowest rate of annual population increase in more than a century.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Deaths omicron Pandemic
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