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National Perspective | CENSUS

America's Bumper Crop: All 50 States Show Population Gains

With the booming West leading the way, the U.S. added a record 32.7 million people in the '90s, the report says.

April 03, 2001|ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — For the first time in a century, every state gained in population as the nation added a record 32.7 million people during the 1990s, the Census Bureau reported Monday.

Although growth was universal, the West set the pace, expanding by 19%, and adding 10.4 million people, according to a Census Bureau review of the just-completed release of population figures for all 50 states.

If current growth rates continue, sometime in the next few years the Western region will surpass the long-settled Midwest as the second most populous area of the United States.

Census experts used adjectives such as "astounding" and "astonishing" to describe the Western boom: The Phoenix metropolitan area added a million people, expanding by 45%, while the Las Vegas metro area grew by 710,000, a torrid 83% pace.

There is still plenty of room to grow: "Phoenix is flat and it's easy--you stick a shovel in the ground and pour a slab and you have a house," said Christopher Williamson, associate professor of geography at USC.

Even the slower-growing areas in the Midwest and Northeast had some modest gains, boosted in part by aging baby boomers staying in place as they near retirement, some movement of immigrants lured by a strong economy, and "virtual jobs" allowing people with a modem and an Internet connection to work anywhere.

This enabled every state to show some net increase in population, although 685 of the nation's 3,141 counties still posted a loss.

The most sparsely populated rural and agricultural counties continued to decline. A swath of counties losing people extends across the Great Plains from the Mexican border north to the Canadian border, according to the Census Bureau report. Another strip of declining counties extends from Maine through western Pennsylvania and West Virginia to eastern Kentucky.

The total expansion of 32 million people for the nation surpassed the previous 10-year record of 28 million established during the 1950s, the heart of the baby boom birth explosion. The rate of growth, after slowing down for three decades, accelerated again during the 1990s.

"The country is growing much faster in many ways than we thought it was," John Long, chief of the Census Bureau's population division, told the news conference where the population trend figures were released.

Immigration played a key role in making the population growth larger than anticipated, but the extent isn't precisely known, Long said. The Census Bureau experts will analyze details contained in the census "long form" questionnaire about country of birth, and they will have information this summer about the foreign-born population, he said. The reports issued last month are limited to total population figures, and the race and ethnic composition of the population.

Monday's report, with rankings on 280 U.S. metropolitan areas, indicated that the largest in population includes New York City, northern New Jersey, Long Island and nearby suburbs of Pennsylvania and Connecticut, with 21.2 million people. Population rose 8.4%, a gain of 1.7 million people.

But California, the most populous state, with 33 million residents, now boasts four of the top 25 metropolitan areas. Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County (16.4 million) ranks second; San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (7 million) is fifth; San Diego (2.8 million) is 17th; and Sacramento-Yolo (1.8 million) is 25th.

Metropolitan Los Angeles grew by 1.8 million people during the decade, the largest increase of any of the nation's 280 metropolitan regions.

Although the high-growth areas in California and Texas are dubbed "immigrant magnets," there is also impressive expansion in what can be called the "new Sunbelt," areas attracting people seeking good jobs and a better quality of life away from crowded freeways and super-priced homes, said William Frey, a demographer at the Milken Institute, an economic research organization in Santa Monica.

Places such as Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City in the West, and the "research triangle" cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina, are attracting domestic migrants from other parts of the country, Frey said. "They want to leave the expensive suburbs of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York," he added. And when these well-paid professionals move to take new jobs, immigrants follow the developing boom, providing the construction workers and service personnel, he noted.

Although the national population increased by 13%, Boise grew 46%, Salt Lake City-Ogden expanded 24%, and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro region gained 38%. Reno's population jumped 33%. The Provo-Orem, Utah, area gained 39%, and in Colorado, Colorado Springs rose 30% and the Fort Collins-Loveland area gained 35%.

The fast-growing West includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

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