The southern U.S. population is growing while other areas of the country are shrinking, leading to the South potentially becoming the hub of the U.S. population for the first time in U.S. history.
- If trends continue, the U.S. population center could be in the South by the end of the decade.
- The southern U.S. outpaced other regions of the U.S. last year by more than 1.3 million people.
- Southern population surge is partly due to births outpacing deaths in the region and increased domestic and international immigration to the area.
- In comparison, the North and Midwest lost overall residents. The West grew by 153,000 people.
- Six of the top 10 U.S. states with the most significant growth last year were southern states, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia.
- The U.S. Census Bureau changed how it calculates its estimates due to pandemic delays, and the population estimates may have been skewed.
Why it’s news
If trends continue, the center of the U.S. population could shift south of the Missouri Ozarks and continue expanding southward rather than westward. Throughout all of American history, the population has expanded west, the Associated Press reports. The first population center was in Chestertown, Maryland, in 1790. Since then, the location has moved steadily westward. The arrival of air conditioning in the 20th century pushed the population somewhat more south, but the westward trend continued until now.
Analysts cannot point to one specific draw bringing populations further south. Potential factors include weather preferences, COVID-19-related motives, cost of living, lower taxes, and more Baby Boomers retiring.
The pandemic could have partly driven the population shift. As more workers had the opportunity to switch to remote work, some may have taken advantage of the opportunity to relocate to warmer climates. Lower tax rates and cost of living could have been an added incentive.
Western populations started to decline in 2021 as around 145,000 residents relocated to other areas of the U.S. Many of the departures were from states like California, Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. States like Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah still saw domestic migration growth, but the numbers were smaller than in previous years.
Experts are still deciding whether or not the population decline in certain states is related to the pandemic or growing social issues in the states. For example, in Oregon, nearly 17,000 residents moved to other areas of the country at a time when the state was plagued with increased crime, weather-related disasters, and wildfires. However, the ability to work remotely could have also been a motivator as residents sought cheaper housing, the Associated Press reports.
In 2021, Oregon’s population increased enough to grant the state an additional congressional seat.
The next several years will be telling as demographers watch to determine whether or not these trends are temporary or here to stay.