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Econometric Advisors' blog

Unpacking recent U.S. population growth

Jan 24, 2017, 09:46 AM by James Bohnaker

Census estimates show that Texas, Florida and California had the largest increases in population over the year ending July 2016.[1] Given that they have the largest populations to begin with, these states can be expected to top the list; over this particular period they collectively added more than 1 million people, or nearly 50% of the entire national increase. In terms of population growth rates, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Florida and Washington State led the pack. West Virginia had the worst contraction of the eight states that saw net declines, with Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York among that group.

U.S. Regional Population Change Rate Jul 2015 - Jul 2016

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen people packing up and moving to Sun Belt. In fact, except for the years of the Great Recession, it has been the predominant demographic trend of the past couple decades. The aftermath of the housing crash had some questioning whether the migration trends toward Sun Belt and suburbs would ever be the same.

Although housing mobility in the U.S. remains historically low, limitations to domestic migration have subsided as increasing home prices and the strong job market have allowed owners to pay down debt and get above water on their mortgages. The strong economy also coincides with many students coming out of grad school and elderly workers thinking about retirement, so we might expect mobility to improve in the next few years.

But where should we expect them to move?  We know that the West and South are reemerging, but not necessarily in the states you’d expect. Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Florida and South Carolina had the highest rates of domestic migration last year. Southern states have a clear draw for retirees from the Northeast—especially after the brutal winter of 2015—but there is another trend developing. Emerging tech centers such as Portland, Reno and Boise are proving favorable complements to expensive primary hubs. Even if they aren’t “stealing” jobs from other areas, the sheer growth in tech is necessitating expansion that would be too expensive in places like Silicon Valley. Employees are warming to the upside as well, as affordable living has become a forgotten word in coastal cities .

Commercial real estate investors are taking notice of some of these emerging cities. Nashville, Austin and Denver fit the bill as tech areas that have seen rapid development and CRE performance in recent years. This trend appears here to stay, so identifying that next big thing will pay dividends. Portland, for example, is among the top ten markets for rent growth over the past 12 months in both office and multifamily.


[1] An area's change in population mainly depends on two things: net change from births and deaths, and net migration of people into and out of the area. As birth and death rates change very slowly and don't vary much by region, migration trends can be reliably discerned from overall growth rates.

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