Five Things to Know About Fast-Growing Cities

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Cities large and small saw population growth since the 2010 Census. Some unlikely places have wound up as fast-growing cities. But how that growth happened and where the winners and losers were varied. Here are five things to understand about the newly released population estimates.

Big cities get bigger

There are a number of ways to look at population growth. One of the most important and obvious is the raw number of increase. There, you see that your big metros are only getting bigger. Between 2010 and 2013, Houston; Dallas; New York; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles all added upwards of 300,000 residents. The Houston area added almost 400,000, or the size of the city of Minneapolis. This, then, is an important trend in itself. It’s also notable who’s not on that list: The Chicago area lagged its big metro brethren significantly, adding only 77,000. At the same time, many areas lost population. Detroit continues its decline, dropping another 1,000, but many areas fared much worse. Cleveland’s decline of 12,500 was the most of any metro area. Other former industrial centers like Youngstown, Ohio; Flint, Mich.; Rockford, Ill.; and Pine Bluff, Ark., all lost more than 4,000.

Babies are booming

Underlying the increase in population is the reasons why populations are increasing. The Census breaks out the stats on this, too. Populations can either increase naturally (more births than deaths) or through migration – either domestic or international. Here we do see Chicago near the top of the pack, trailing only New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. You’d expect to see natural decreases in population in places with older populations, and sure enough, senior centers in Florida like Sarasota, Punta Gorda and The Villages are all near the top of this list. But topping the list with 10,000 more deaths than births was Pittsburgh, Pa., which was named one of our best retirement cities.

People come, people go

Migration is further broken down between people moving within the U.S. and those coming from abroad. Miami is second only to Houston in terms of migration gains. Here’s where Chicago is hurting: 100,000 more people moved out of the area than moved in. Even more interesting is that 75,000 people moved in from abroad, meaning that 175,000 were lost to other U.S. metro areas. You see similar patterns in Cleveland, Detroit, Flint and St. Louis – each of which lost at least 10,000 people since 2010.

Reasons for growth vary

One of the most interesting things to look at is whether growth is coming more from people having kids or people moving into the area. There’s a lot of difference between Miami, which is about 75 percent movers, and New York, formerly immigrant-central, which is now almost entirely growing from births. Pittsburgh, which we mentioned has many fewer births than deaths, also had 17,000 people move into the area since 2010, giving it an overall growth of 4,600.

The growth of the middle

The biggest story in all of this is the growth in the middle of the nation due to the energy boom we’ve been experiencing from North Dakota and Montana on down to Texas. Many of these smaller, more rural areas have been exploding in population faster than the towns can keep up with housing and services. While the growth shows no sign of slowing, USA Today had a piece this week that gives some signs of an impending population bust, too. People who have been raking in the money in those towns are spending it on cheap homes in areas such as Phoenix that are still struggling in the post-housing bubble. If the cities can’t keep up – and maybe even if they can – when the energy money dries up, all those movers might just be hitting the road again.

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