WASHINGTON – After decades of exponential growth in which housing developments sprouted in swamps, farmland and deserts, the number of Americans moving to several states in the South and the West has slowed sharply due to the recession and housing bust, according to Census Bureau figures released Wednesday.
The longtime magnets of Florida and Nevada, which had benefited most as people fled the dreary cold of the Northeast and Midwest, saw more Americans move out than move in over the year ending July 1. California also had a net loss of so-called domestic migrants, although in all three states the impact was blunted by immigration from other countries and by natural growth because of births.
The state population figures foreshadow a political realignment that will occur after the 2010 Census, which is used to determine the reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. Texas, which had the biggest population growth of 478,000 people last year, is among the states that stand to gain seats, and states in the Northeast and Midwest could lose.
The economic downturn and the upheaval it has spawned are creating an unusual set of challenges for next April’s national count. Foreclosures and job losses have caused many to give up their homes and move in with friends and family, and Census Bureau officials fear that those people could be undercounted. As the latest data suggests, hard times have led many people to abandon once-booming locales, and increasing numbers of others to stay put, when they cannot sell their houses or land new jobs.
The economy has also reshuffled the growth rates of states, transplanting some onto the losing side of the ledger for the first time in recent memory, according to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
Arizona, for example, was ranked in the top five states in population growth every year of this decade, until this past year. Just 15,000 Americans moved into the state, down from 55,000 the previous year. Georgia’s growth rate, usually around 2 percent, has been cut in half.
But it is Florida and Nevada that had the most stark reversals of fortune. In the first half of the decade, they were usually among the top five in both population gain and growth rate. They now rank in the bottom half, among 23 states that are losing more Americans than they gain.
“Florida was a state people moved to,” said Frey, adding, “It was a growth machine, and it just sort of stopped.”
Nevada’s population would have been virtually stagnant last year, if not for 11,000 newcomers from other countries who more than offset the net loss of 3,800 American residents.