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Jun 102013
A map showing population changes, 2000 - 2010, across the country by county.

A map showing population changes, 2000 – 2010, across the country by county.

We’ve written regularly about the importance of population density when choosing a retreat location.

But there’s more to population density than just looking at the density of an area at a given instant in time.  Is the population increasing or decreasing?  That may impact on the future population density that you can anticipate to evolve.  And there is a very different dynamic in a region with rapidly growing population than a region which is steadily losing people.  Consider Florida, with new developments, new roads, new shopping, and formerly empty areas now becoming new towns and cities.  And then think about some of the rust-belt states, with decaying infrastructure, empty city centers, boarded up shops, etc.

So, do you even know if the retreat you may be considering is in an area with a growing population, or a retreat in an area with a shrinking population?  And, although the extremes of too rapid growth and too substantial decline are both obviously bad, what about moderate growth and moderate decline – which is better?

First, we should define what is normal, such as it ever is in a nation as varied and diverse as ours.  The country as a whole grew by 9.64% in the ten years between the 2000 census and the 2010 census.  So, in a sense, any area that did not grow by right around 10% is growing at a less than average rate and so is – in relative terms – sort of shrinking.

The 9.64% overall growth in the nation did not occur evenly over all 50 states.  According to the US Census bureau, the south and west each grew by over this amount, while the northeast and midwest grew by less.

The states listed in order of percentage growth are

Rank  State Growth (%) 
1 Nevada 35.1
2 Arizona 24.6
3 Utah 23.8
4 Idaho 21.1
5 Texas 20.6
6 North Carolina 18.5
7 Georgia 18.3
8 Florida 17.6
9 Colorado 16.9
10 South Carolina 15.3
11 Delaware 14.6
12 Washington 14.1
13 Wyoming 14.1
14 Alaska 13.3
15 New Mexico 13.2
16 Virginia 13.0
17 Hawaii 12.3
18 Oregon 12.0
19 Tennessee 11.5
20 California 10.0
21 Montana 9.7
AVG National Average   9.64 
22 Arkansas 9.1
23 Maryland 9.0
24 Oklahoma 8.7
25 South Dakota 7.9
26 Minnesota 7.8
27 Alabama 7.5
28 Kentucky 7.4
29 Missouri 7.0
30 Nebraska 6.7
31 Indiana 6.6
32 New Hampshire 6.5
33 Kansas 6.1
34 Wisconsin 6.0
35 District of Colombia 5.2
36 Connecticut 4.9
37 North Dakota 4.7
38 New Jersey 4.5
39 Mississippi 4.3
40 Maine 4.2
41 Iowa 4.1
42 Pennsylvania 3.4
43 Illinois 3.3
44 Massachusetts 3.1
45 Vermont 2.8
46 West Virginia 2.5
47 New York 2.1
48 Ohio 1.6
49 Louisiana 1.4
50 Rhode Island 0.4
51 Michigan – 0.6

Twenty one states grew by more than the national average, 28 states (plus DC) grew by less, and one state (Michigan) actually shrunk.

How Much Growth is Good?

We would suggest that you don’t want to relocate to an area that is undergoing significantly greater than normal growth.  A region and a state with ‘super-growth’ will see a changing demographic, will have an unpredictable future, will have greater pressure on land prices and availability, and inevitably spreading urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and other challenges.  After spending some decades in the Pacific Northwest, where the freeway capacity has never been able to catch up with population pressures, we speak from bitter experience.  🙂

If we arbitrarily define super-growth as being 10% above the national average, that would make five states undesirable.

We also suggest you don’t want to relocate to a moribund state with little or no growth.  There are seldom good reasons for a state suffering curtailed growth, and it may bring with it a feeling of resentment and greedy entitlement among those people remaining.

If we perhaps choose the bottom five states as being also undesirable (although we could as easily make this four, or six, or any other number) that provides a further point of focus.

So if we’ve eliminated ten states as growing either too fast or too slow, what about the other 40 states?  Are they all equally desirable/neutral from a population growth dynamic?

Clearly, some of these have to be better than others, but we’re also starting to shift from where it is appropriate to consider states as a whole to where it becomes more appropriate to think about counties.  However, and without thinking about the identities of the specific states, if we were to select say a matching ten ‘better’ states to highlight, we’d probably choose the ten ranging down from the average growth rate of 9.64%.  In order, these would be AR MD OK SD MN AL KY MO NE and IN.

To show all this on a map, we have shaded the ‘too fast growing’ states with red, the ‘too slow growing’ states with black, and the ‘slightly less than average’ states in green.


It is interesting to note that one of the fastest growing states (TX) is right next to one of the slowest growing states (LA).  However, LA is a special case state, due to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, giving perhaps an anomalous result for this ten year period.  We also note that one of the redoubt states (ID) is also the fourth fastest growing state.

More Meaningful Data at the County Level

The state level information is interesting to see, but potentially misleading.  As we said above, we’re now moving to a situation where county by county considerations become more important, and so here’s a wonderful map showing exactly this.

This gives us a very different view.  We would suggest that the ideal color to look for would be the lightest blue color, showing a 0% – 10% population increase.  Beyond that, we would be probably comfortable with the lightest yellow color too (ie up to a 10% decrease) and then our third choice would be the mid color blue (10% – 20% increase).

Other colors could be considered too – remember, that even now we are at county level data, a single county can conceal conflicting trends in different parts, and need to be considered in the context of other counties around it, and also whether the county’s population is large or small, numerically.  For example, in a county with a very small population but a large land area, adding or subtracting just a couple of families could make a large percentage difference.

You can now see, for example, that even the most rapidly growing state (Nevada, with a statewide growth of 35.1%) actually shows most of the state with low growth, some parts with decreases, and almost the entire growth (in terms of actual extra people) occurring in one place only (Clark County – ie the Las Vegas area).

This is a great example of how average data for a larger area obscures major differences when you start to look in more detail.


The US population grew, nation-wide, by 9.64% over the period 2000 – 2010.  This growth was not evenly distributed over the entire country.  One state actually got smaller (Michigan), while the most rapidly growing state (Nevada) grew by 35%.

But within individual states, there is also a huge range of increases (and decreases) when you track the changes in each separate county.

Our general recommendation is to locate in an area with average to moderately below average growth, ideally between a maximum of perhaps 10% and a minimum of slightly less than 0% growth – a mild decrease, in other words.

But, just as how we saw a huge change when we went from state level data to county level data, even a single county can mix some areas of growth (perhaps a city) with other areas of no growth or population decrease.

As is the case with all data, our search does not end once we get county level statistics.  If anything, it is only just starting when you’ve created a short list of counties to consider in detail.


David Spero[suffusion-the-author display='description']

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