Friday, December 31, 2010

Census Shifts Affected by Economy

The first set of data from the 2010 Census, released earlier this month, underscored the big role economic forces can play in driving population shifts.  While the movement of people—and political power—from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West continued, there were significant changes within that pattern, including a dramatic slowdown in what had long been some of the nation’s fastest growing states.  And those same forces are likely to shape the current decade, at least the first part of it.

“Over time, the population numbers will reflect the rate of job growth,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, Calif.  Many Americans want to move but can’t, because they can’t sell their homes. Others owe more than their homes are worth. And many young people, who account for the bulk of the moves, are stuck living at home, delaying marriage and having children as they contend with the sluggish economy.

Overall, the nation’s population increased 9.7% between 2000 and 2010, the smallest 10-year growth rate since the decade of the Great Depression. As in the 1930s, the latest slowdown was due to fewer immigrant arrivals and a shrinking of the nation’s birth rate, in part because of the economic downturn and the hardships inflicted on many families.

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, says there’s little in the latest Census head-counts, or other statistics for that matter, to suggest that the multi-decade trend of migration to the South and West won’t continue.  But the pace of movement has been restrained—and redirected within the region—by the sagging employing and housing markets. And that pattern has yet to change.

Barbara Abe