Population Growth Accelerates in Large Cities: Census

New census estimates show population is increasing in large cities faster than the nation as a whole, and the growth appears to be accelerating. View an interactive map with updated figures for the 1,000 largest U.S. cities.
by | June 28, 2012

Many of the nation's largest cities recorded spikes in population growth last year as Americans flocked to urban centers, Census data released this morning shows.

The 2011 estimates signal population is increasing in most large cities faster than the nation as a whole, and the growth appears to be accelerating. Areas of the southwestern U.S. and those with stronger economies, in particular, reported sizable gains over the year.

"We're seeing a real bump for city growth," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. "It has a lot to do with the metro area's economic base and whether the city has a good quality of life."

A Governing review of the new figures, which estimate population from April 2010 to July 2011, showed two-thirds of cities with more than 100,000 residents grew faster than the national rate of 0.92 percent. Only 19 of these 277 cities recorded a net population loss.

New York City added nearly 70,000 residents over the year for the largest raw increase, followed by Houston and San Antonio.

The population shift taking place in many cities is more rapid than gains experienced in years.

Frey analyzed the data and found populations for 52 of the 73 largest U.S. cities rose at faster rates last year than the average annual growth from 2000 to 2010.

Even cities that lost population over the decade recorded yearly increases. The population count for Santa Ana, Calif., jumped 1.5 percent over the year after declining. Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Oakland, Calif., are among other cities showing slight gains after losing residents.

By contrast, Frey noted that Charlotte and some Sunbelt cities continued to add population, but at slower rates than before.

For cities with at least 25,000 residents, the following recorded the largest annual percentage gains:

City 2011 Estimate Change from 2010 % Change
San Luis, Ariz. 27,864 2,359 9.25
Fredericksburg, Va. 25,691 1,405 5.79
Pasco, Wash. 63,186 3,405 5.70
New Orleans, La. 360,740 16,911 4.92
Cedar Park, Texas 51,283 2,346 4.79
Round Rock, Texas 104,664 4,775 4.78
Georgetown, Texas 49,562 2,162 4.56
Leesburg, Va. 44,400 1,784 4.19
San Marcos, Texas 46,685 1,791 3.99
Manassas, Va. 39,300 1,479 3.91

Population swings are explained by two main factors: migration from residents entering or leaving a locality and natural increases driven by fertility rates.

Although many are lured to areas by employment opportunities, other workers have remained immobile, often reluctant to sell their homes in the current housing market.

"Some of it is an urban renaissance, another part has to do with a low rate of migration," Frey said.

Texas experienced the nation's largest percentage jump in total population (excluding the District of Columbia), up 2.1 percent for the year.

Austin, Texas, added an estimated 30,221 residents, enough for a 3.8 percent annual increase.

Lloyd Potter, Texas' state demographer, said the technology sector has fueled much of Austin's growth. Computer manufacturer Dell is headquartered in nearby Rock Rock, Texas, which saw its population jump 4.8 percent for the year.

This has played out similarly in other Texas cities. Potter said energy companies and petrochemical plants added jobs to Houston's economy. Similarly, finance and agriculture businesses attracted residents to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which also continues to see its population rise.

"The economic growth we've experienced seems to go hand and hand with population growth," Potter said.

Many formerly living in regions hardest hit by the recession are now Texans. Potter said the state has become a top destination for residents in California, Nevada, Florida and other areas with poor housing markets.

A total of 18 of the top 25 U.S. cities with populations of at least 25,000 recording the highest percentage increases are in the Lone Star State.

For years, immigrants from Mexico boosted the state's population totals. But this has slowed, with a recent Pew Research Center study reporting the net migration from Mexico has stopped and could have even reversed. Instead, the state has seen an influx of Asian immigrants in recent years, Potter said.

Along with those migrating to Texas, the state's existing demographics are favorable to population growth as well. The large number of Hispanics have higher-than-average fertility rates.

Potter estimated this "natural" increase accounts for about half of Texas' overall population gains.

While the state still has plenty of room to grow, Potter warned that areas with limited water or energy supplies may soon face challenges in accommodating more residents, though.


Click a marker on the map or search for a location to view current and historical population data for the 1,000 largest cities:

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