4 Takeaways From New Census Population Data on Cities

Plus, view data and estimates for dozens of jurisdictions.
by | May 21, 2015

The Census Bureau released new population estimates Thursday, showing where cities stand in attracting and retaining residents.

The latest estimates, current as of July 2014, cover all cities, towns and other subcounty jurisdictions. Read the following summary for a few key trends and what to watch for in the years to come.

Strong Growth For Big Cities

Population growth picked up in several of the nation’s largest cities in recent years. Some of the better-known destination cities, like Austin and Denver, continue to experience impressive population gains year after year. But others that didn’t fare as well over the prior decade also appear to be welcoming more residents. Dallas’ population, for example, has grown 6.7 percent since 2010 after changing little between 2000 and the 2010 decennial Census. A few others that lost population during the prior decade have seen their population tallies stabilize, as is the case in Chicago and Baltimore.

While growth slowed somewhat over the past 12 months, the population increases still represent an improvement over what many cities experienced a decade ago. When compared to July 2010 data, no city with at least a half million residents lost population with the notable exception of Detroit. These larger cities grew an average of 4.9 percent over the four-year period. That’s a faster average rate than that of mid-size and smaller cities, representing a reversal of what occurred over the prior decade.

Fastest-Growing Cities

For the third consecutive year, San Marcos, Texas, experienced the fastest population growth of any city, up 7.9 percent over the short 12-month period ending last July. Just behind San Marcos was Georgetown, Texas, another city near Austin. Texas has five of the top ten fastest-growing cities with at least 50,000 residents.

Of larger cities with populations of at least 200,000, those adding residents at the steepest rates over the year include Irvine, Calif. (+4.8 percent), Gilbert, Ariz. (+3.8 percent), and Austin (+2.9 percent). All of these jurisdictions continue to follow patterns of steady growth in recent years.

New York gained nearly 53,000 residents over the 12 months (and about 300,000 since 2010) – the most of any city in terms of raw totals. Historically, the city relied on foreign immigrants to offset domestic migration losses. That’s begun to shift recently, though, as more newcomers moved in from other parts of the county, reports New York’s Department of City Planning Population Division.

Sun Belt, Western Cities Continue Strong Growth

The vast majority of the fastest-growing cities are found in warm climates, particularly in Arizona, Florida and Texas. Some of these places benefit from a steady stream of retirees, such as Cape Coral, Fla., and Orlando, Fla. Midland, Odessa and other parts of Texas also continue to register impressive growth rates, mostly stemming from a major oil boom there.

Several smaller cities out West, particularly in Colorado and Utah, similarly recorded some of the top population growth rates reflected in the latest data.

By comparison, cities in the Midwest and Northeast region generally experienced little or no growth, on average, over the 12-month period. This represents a continuation of historical trends as Americans relocate to parts of the South and western U.S.

There are, however, a number of regional outliers that emerge in the Census data. Two Midwestern suburban cities – Fishers, Ind., and West Des Moines, Iowa, – both have enjoyed population increases of roughly 11 percent since 2010. Columbus, Ohio, too, has welcomed more residents than other larger cities across the region.

Some States’ Most Populous Cities Set to Change

There aren’t any new cities occupying the top slots in their respective states, but the latest estimates suggest that could soon change in a few places.

Columbia, S.C., remains South Carolina’s most populous city, but only by a few thousand people over faster-growing Charleston. Nashville continues to experience steady population gains that put the city on pace to overtake Memphis within a year or two. Jersey City, N.J., is similarly growing far faster than Newark, N.J., but remains about 18,000 residents behind in the latest estimates. In Wyoming, Casper has slowly closed the gap between it and Cheyenne.

Data Limitations

Several states and local jurisdictions publish their own population estimates that differ from the Census data.

The Census Bureau computes population estimates by applying a distributive housing unit method to county-level household populations. Numbers of housing units in cities were estimated using building permits, mobile home shipments and calculations of housing unit loss. The Census Bureau does not collect vital statistics at the subcounty level as those figures are instead distributed down from counties.

One of the limitations of the Census methodology is that it generally doesn’t incorporate housing conversions from commercial to residential units or vice versa because most states don’t report this data to the Census Bureau.

City Population Estimates

View the latest population data and revised estimates for prior years below. Data is shown for all jurisdictions with populations of at least 50,000.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates