Photo: Tobias Scheck/Flickr
For the last several years, the narrative of an “urban revival” that would signal the end of suburbia has run rampant, fueled by books like 2014’s “The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving” by Fortune magazine editor Leigh Gallagher. However, analysis of new Census population data published on FiveThirtyEight tells a different story — suburbia is alive, and actually drew more Americans in 2016 than nearby big cities.
The Census Bureau recently released population data for every county in the US. To analyze the data, Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.com, divided each of the more than 3,000 counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas and the higher density suburbs and lower density suburbs surrounding them, mid-sized metros, small metros and, finally, rural counties.
He found that population growth in big US cities has slowed over the last five years, while it has accelerated in the surrounding “lower-density” suburbs. Last year, the population grew by 1.3 percent on average in these “lower-density” suburbs — the fastest pace since 2008, when the housing crisis put a halt on rapid building in these areas.
Additionally, there were some suburbs in the South and West that recorded population growth as high as 2 percent last year, according to Kolko. In fact, half of the top 10 fastest growing metros in 2016 were located in Florida.
The Cape Coral/Fort Myers area topped the list with a population growth of 3.1 percent last year. The area had also previously landed in the top spot back in 2004, 2005, and 2006 — at the height of the housing bubble.
Provo-Orem, UT, and Austin, TX, rounded out the top three fastest growing US metros.
Most of the slowest-growing metro areas were found in the Rust Belt and the Northeast. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH, Syracuse, NY, and Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazelton, PA, metro areas had the slowest growth in 2016.
Rural America, or counties located outside of metro areas, shrank 0.04 percent in 2016. It marked the sixth straight year of population decline. Non-metro areas in the Northeast and West had larger population declines.
Just 14 percent of Americans live in rural areas, and it has both the slowest job and wage growth in the country, according to Kolko.
But while the Census data appears to contradict the urban revival mythos, Kolko points out that the urban revival is actually happening, but for the rich and well educated in hyper-urban areas. College-educated Millennials without kids but with high paying jobs have also moved to urban areas.
But for many families, older Americans, and others across all age groups simply can’t afford to move to the city — or they simply don’t want to.
Additionally, Kolko suggests that from the data, the past could be repeating itself. Like 2016, the last decades of the 20th century saw the fastest population growth in lower-density suburbs of large metros, midsize and smaller metros growing more slowly, and rural areas falling behind.
As in 2016, growth in the South and West outpaced the Northeast and Midwest back then as well.
But the further we get away from the years before the housing bubble, the more population growth patterns look like the pre-bubble area, Kolko says.
“Of the 10 fastest-growing large metros today, all but Charleston, South Carolina had rapid growth in the 1980s and 1990s, and all of the 10 slowest-growing large metros today were near the bottom of the pack then, too,” he added.
And, in spite of all the changes we have experienced so far in this century, from the Great Recession, the housing bubble, increasing wealth in many big cities, US population growth appears to be repeating old habits, rather than creating new ones.
Click here to read the entire report.