West, South are fastest growing in latest census data

Jobs, weather and aging population help draw people from North and Midwest.

Eight of the fastest growing states are in the South or West, according to the latest U.S. census data, and five of those growing are Sun Belt states as the nation continues its political, economic and social redistribution.

The U.S. Census Bureau produces population estimates each year, statistics the agency says help planners make policy decisions during the period between the mandated counts every decade. The decennial count is used to apportion congressional seats among the states, though the decision on how to carve  specific districts is left to the states themselves where rival parties often compete for control.

Though the data are just an estimate, they still indicate ongoing trends and this year’s numbers, from July 1, 2013 to 2014, are no different. While the trend toward the South and West and away from the Northeast has been going for decades -- some would say centuries -- there are smaller annual shifts that often reflect factors such as the change in the economy.

For example, the recent recession hit real estate prices hard in the South; thus, as prices have rebounded, so has the region.

The availability of jobs has also been a major reason why people move: North Dakota, where there is a sizable energy boom, is the fastest growing state at 2.16%, according to the latest data released this week.

The advantages enjoyed by the South versus the traditional North or Midwest can be seen in the changes in population ranking. North Carolina, at just under 10 million people, has been going through a spurt in job growth. It passed Michigan to become the nation's ninth-largest state.

Michigan, which grew a scant 0.1%, has been having population problems because of Detroit’s steady decrease in recent years as manufacturing jobs were lost during the recession. The losses in Detroit helped force the city into bankruptcy protection, which recently ended.

It is not just jobs that force changes. The aging of the population can also make a difference as people flee colder climes for the more welcoming South, like Florida.

According to the Census Bureau, Florida passed New York in total population to become the third most populous state with almost 20-million people. Florida added an estimated 800 people a day in the last year, many of whom were New Yorkers. In 1950, New York's population was five times that of Florida's. As recently as 1980, New York's population was 80% larger than Florida's, according to the census data.

In its latest listing, the U.S. Census Bureau this week found that the states with the largest percentage change in population in the year ending on July 1 were led by North Dakota, followed by Nevada and Texas with about 1.7% growth each. Texas was second most populous state overall, at 26.9 million while California was the largest at 38.8 million.

Colorado, at 1.59% growth; Florida, 1.49%; Arizona, 1.45%; Utah, 1.38%; Idaho, 1.34%; and South Carolina, at 1.27%; all made the top 10. The District of Columbia, at 1.51% also made the fastest-growing group.

Perhaps just as important as the list of states that gained people is the one showing the losses. Western and Southern states did better than elsewhere.

Overall, the United States saw a population growth of 2.4 million to 318.9 million, or 0.75%. Just New Mexico, which dropped 1,323 people, or 0.06%, was a Sun Belt state losing population. Alaska with 527 fewer people over the year, or 0.07% of its population, is the other Western state losing people.

Among the other states losing population were Illinois, down 9,972 people or 0.08%; West Virginia, 3,269 people or 0.18%; Connecticut, 2,664 people or 0.07%; and Vermont, 293 or 0.05%.

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