By on 12.29.20 in Carolina Demographics, Census 2020

Dr. Michael Cline is the state demographer for North Carolina at the Office of State Budget and Management and has given us permission to re-post his content here. Each year, he publishes population estimates and projections for North Carolina and its counties.

Once again, North Carolina is a leader in population growth – adding almost 100,000 people between 2019 and 2020 – the fourth largest gain among states and the District of Columbia (Figure 1).  This was equivalent to adding a little more population than the City of Asheville (at 93,413). Only Texas (+374,000), Florida (+241,000) and Arizona (+130,000) added more people during this period.

These population estimates were produced by the US Census Bureau and released December 22.  According to these estimates, there were 10,600,823 people living in North Carolina on July 1, 2020 – about 3.2% of the US population.  While North Carolina grew between July 2019 and July 2020, the growth was the slowest year-over-year change since 2013-2014 in both numeric and percentage terms (adding 99,439 people or 0.9% growth – Figure 2).

Still, North Carolina has fared much better than other states. During this same period 16 states experienced population loss and another 14 gained less than 10,000 people.  North Carolina remains an attractive place to live and work.

Figure 1. Top Ten Largest Numeric Gains, 2019-2020

Top Ten Largest Numeric Gains, 2019-2020

Figure 2. Annual Numeric and Percentage Population Change for North Carolina
Annual Numeric and Percentage Population Change for North Carolina

What’s Driving NC Growth and What Does It Mean for Post-COVID Era?

Relative to other states, North Carolina’s economy has remained strong since the Great Recession – and investments made long ago have made North Carolina an attractive place to do business.  Most people who move to North Carolina from another state do so in order to take a new job or transfer their current employment to a new location. Opportunities here mean that more people move to North Carolina than move elsewhere.  North Carolina’s natural amenities (mountain, beaches – and much greenspace in between) and the cost of living make it an attractive place to live – which means that others may choose to live here in retirement as well. Previous estimates have shown that about 2/3rds of our growth since 2010 was due to net domestic and international migration.

Much of the world began to feel the impacts of the pandemic around March of 2020, including slowing international and domestic migration – so these estimates do not reflect the full impacts of the pandemic.  While these estimates do not provide the components of change (how much growth can be accounted for by natural increase–births minus deaths–and international and domestic migration), the likely immediate impact – beyond COVID deaths – of the pandemic for the North Carolina population was the slowing of international and domestic migration. When people are uncertain about the future, they are less likely to make major life changes such as moving or having children. In addition, international flights and immigration processing were postponed.

While there may have been some people moving from other states to “shelter in place,” the temporary “COVID birds” would not be reflected in these population estimates, which include only the permanent resident population. We do not know yet how many of these people may decide to enjoy what North Carolina has to offer year-round and post-pandemic, but we will continue to monitor this issue and other short- and long-term impacts of the Coronavirus on population change – including the impacts on deaths, births, and migration, and will share that information in future blogs.

According to these estimates, North Carolina added about 1.1 million people since 2010 (Figure 3) – the fourth largest increase after Texas (+4.2 million), Florida (+2.9 million), and California (+2.1 million).  At 11.2%, this was the 12th fastest percentage growth nationally over the decade.

While the nation has likely experienced the slowest growth since at least 1900, North Carolina’s growth remains robust.  That said, the growth was much slower than the previous two decades. We added almost a half a million people less compared to the prior decades (1.4 million people or 21.4% – 1990-2000 and 1.5 million people or 18.5% – 2000-2010).

Figure 3. Top Ten Largest Numeric Gains, 2010-2020 (In Thousands)

Top Ten Largest Numeric Gains, 2010-2020

Figure 4. Annual Numeric and Percentage Population Change for North Carolina

 Annual Numeric and Percentage Population Change for North Carolina

Looking Ahead to 2020 Census Counts

These are the last set of population estimates that will use the 2010 Census as a base and will be used to evaluate how well the US Census Bureau estimated the population during the previous decade.

Beginning next year, the US Census Bureau (and my office) will begin using the 2020 Census counts as a bases for state, county, and municipal population estimates. In a normal decennial year, we would receive the state population counts by December 31st – but of course, this has not been a normal year.

The US Census Bureau anticipates releasing the apportionment counts soon, though no official date has been set yet.  We will keep you posted!

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