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Population patterns of US counties rebounding following pandemic contraction

April 06, 2023

Following a jolt of outmigration and population declines from some of the country’s most populous counties in 2021, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that county growth patterns are returning to pre-pandemic rates. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Vintage 2022 estimates of population and components of change found that many college counties saw a rebound in 2022, a pattern that was observed in many metropolitan counties in the South and West.

“The migration and growth patterns for counties edged closer to pre-pandemic levels this year,” said Dr. Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s population division, in a press release on the data. “Some urban counties, such as Dallas and San Francisco, saw domestic outmigration at a slower pace between 2021 and 2022, compared to the prior year. Meanwhile, many counties with large universities saw their populations fully rebound this year as students returned."

Over one-half (52.5%) of all 3,144 counties grew between 2021 and 2022, down from 55.7% of counties the prior year. Counties with populations below 10,000 experienced more population loss (60.8%) than gains (38.3%), while large counties (populations of 100,000 or more) largely experienced population increases (68%).

Percent Change in County Population: July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Whitman County, Washington, home to Washington State University, was the fastest-growing county between 2021 and 2022, growing by 10.1% after a drop of 9.6% in population between 2020 and 2021. Half of the top 10 fastest growing counties were in Texas (Kaufman County (8.9%), Rockwall County (5.7%), Parker County (5.6%), Comal County (5.6%) and Chambers County (5.3%)), with Florida (Sumter County, 7.5%), Georgia (Dawson and Lumpkin Counties, both with 5.8%), and North Carolina (Brunswick County, 5.7%) completing the top 10.

Maricopa County, Arizona, home to the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe, remained the largest-gaining county in the nation, adding 56,831 residents in 2022, a gain of 1.3% since 2021, with domestic migration accounting for the largest contribution to the increase. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County, California, had the largest population decline (-90,704) in 2022, and New York County, New York, which had declined by 98,505 in 2021 due in large part to net domestic outmigration, saw an increase of 17,472 in 2022.

county, population