The U.S. population grew by less than 1% last year, among the slowest rates in decades. While nationwide population growth was slow, the trend of Americans moving from rural areas to metropolitan centers continued. Some urban areas are remarkably more popular destinations than others.
Over the last five years, the populations of nearly 30 metropolitan areas grew by more than 10%, while the U.S. population grew by 3.7%. The Villages, Florida, had the fastest growing metropolitan population in the United States, increasing by 25.8% over the last five years.
Populations can grow in several ways. One is by natural growth, which occurs when there are more births than deaths. However, natural growth only accounted for a small part of the population growth in most of these fast-growing metropolitan areas.
The factor that drove the massive population growth in the cities on this list was migration — domestic and international. In all 20 of the fastest growing cities, natural growth accounted for less than one-third of the five-year population growth rate. In several of the places on this list, notably retirement destinations like The Villages, the natural population growth actually had a negative effect on the overall population growth.
All but but a few of the 20 cities with the fastest growing populations are in warmer parts of the country — across the South and Southwestern United States.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., William Frey, senior demographer at public policy think tank Brookings Institute, explained that high growth in cities in those parts of the country is indicative of the long-term U.S. migratory trend of Americans moving from the Northeast and the Midwest — including the Rust Belt — to the Sun Belt.
This trend has been going on for some time, but with notable exceptions during the economic downturn of 2007 and 2008. In some of these rapidly growing regions, Frey explained, “the recession and the mortgage meltdown put the brakes on local mobility.” Frey added that only in the last couple of years have improving economic conditions in Sun Belt cities resulted in a return to pre-2007 population growth.
The promise of employment opportunities, explained Frey, is one of the biggest drivers of migration. In the majority of these fast growing metropolitan areas, January unemployment rates are far below the national rate of 4.7%.
The relationship between unemployment and population growth is likely strong in part because it can be a self-perpetuating cycle, Frey explained. If young people are disinclined to move to an area because it has fewer job opportunities, the population will stagnate, potentially leading to even greater economic decline, and as a result, even greater job losses.
Young people account for the largest share of U.S. migratory populations, and this affects the composition of these fast-growing cities. In Provo-Orem, Utah, where the population grew by 11.5% over the last five years, over half of the population is under the age of 25, the largest share of any metropolitan area and well above the national share of nearly one-third.
Not all of the fast-growing cities are younger, however. Several, notably the Florida metropolitan areas of The Villages and Punta Gorda, are actually known as major retirement destinations. While 26.5% of the nation’s population is 55 and older, 55.4% of Punta Gorda residents and 70.4% of The Villages residents are at least 55. While a few retirement communities stand out on this list, Frey noted that elderly residents are far less likely to move, and so these metro areas are highly unusual.
24/7 Wall St. based this list of the fastest growing and shrinking cities on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates of population changes in the 381 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas from July 2011 through July 2016. Poverty rates, educational attainment rates, and workforce composition came from the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. Unemployment rates are for January 2011 and January 2017.
These are America’s fastest growing cities.