By August Benzow

As the country’s population growth fell to its lowest rate since the 1930s last year, a majority of counties lost residents according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. For the year ending July 1, 2020, Sunbelt metro areas, the Mountain West, and the Pacific Northwest enjoyed robust population growth. By contrast, the urban Midwest and Northeast added to their long population declines along with large parts of Appalachia and the rural South. Expensive coastal areas like the Bay Area and New York City also shed population, hit hard by domestic out migration and a dwindling pipeline of international migration. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, net international migration nationally sunk to its lowest number of the decade, falling to 477,000 from 719,900 in the year prior. At the same time, the U.S. birth rate fell to four percent, its lowest point ever.

Key takeaways from the Census estimates:

  • A majority of counties lost population last year. The number of counties losing population increased from 1,526 (48 percent) in 2019 to 1,668 (52 percent) in 2020.

  • In more than half of counties deaths are higher than births. Over half (55 percent) of counties had more deaths than births in 2020 compared to 45 percent in 2019 and 35 percent in 2010.
  • Domestic migration is drawing people away from the Midwest and Northeast. Counties in the Northeast had a domestic migration net loss of 315,000 residents and the Midwest lost 208,000 on net. Most of those people went to metro areas in the South, which saw a net gain of a half million.
  • There are fewer immigrants to fill in the gaps. Just 576 counties saw an increase in net international migration in 2020, the lowest number of the decade. Traditional immigrant gateways such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Santa Clara County, CA, experienced negative net international migration over the year, losing more residents to abroad than they gained.

These trends speak to the need for more creative policy tools to address national and localized population decline amid the country’s broader demographic transformation. Foremost among those should be a Heartland Visa–a new category of visa that matches skilled immigrants with parts of the country in need of an economic and demographic boost.



Demographic Trends  

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