WASHINGTON — A record number of U.S. counties – more than 1 in 3 – are now dying off, hit by an aging population and weakened local economies that are spurring young adults to seek jobs and build families elsewhere.
New 2012 census estimates released Thursday highlight the population shifts as the U.S. encounters its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression.
The findings also reflect the increasing economic importance of foreign-born residents as the U.S. ponders an overhaul of a major 1965 federal immigration law. Without new immigrants, many metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis would have posted flat or negative population growth in the last year.
"Immigrants are innovators, entrepreneurs, they're making things happen. They create jobs," said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, at an immigration conference in his state last week. Saying Michigan should be a top destination for legal immigrants to come and boost Detroit and other struggling areas, Snyder made a special appeal: "Please come here."
The growing attention on immigrants is coming mostly from areas of the Midwest and Northeast, which are seeing many of their residents leave after years of staying put during the downturn. With a slowly improving U.S. economy, young adults are now back on the move, departing traditional big cities to test the job market mostly in the South and West, which had sustained the biggest hits in the housing bust.
Also seeing big declines now are rural and exurban areas, along with industrial sections of the Rust Belt.
Census data show that 1,135 of the nation's 3,143 counties are now experiencing "natural decrease," where deaths exceed births. That's up from roughly 880 U.S. counties, or 1 in 4, in 2009. Already apparent in Japan and many European nations, natural decrease is now increasingly evident in large swaths of the U.S.
Despite increasing deaths, the U.S. population as a whole continues to grow, boosted by immigration from abroad and relatively higher births among the mostly younger migrants from Mexico, Latin America and Asia.
"These counties are in a pretty steep downward spiral," said Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer and sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, who researched the findings. "The young people leave and the older adults stay in place and age. Unless something dramatic changes – for instance, new development such as a meatpacking plant to attract young Hispanics – these areas are likely to have more and more natural decrease."
The areas of natural decrease stretch from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San Francisco to the rural areas of east Texas and the Great Plains. A common theme is a waning local economy, such as farming, mining or industrial areas. They also include some retirement communities in Florida, although many are cushioned by a steady flow of new retirees each year.
In the last year, Maine joined West Virginia as the only two entire states where deaths exceed births, which have dropped precipitously after the recent recession. As a nation, the U.S. population grew by just 0.75 percent last year, stuck at historically low levels not seen since 1937.
Johnson said the number of dying counties is rising not only because of fewer births but also increasing mortality as 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 move into their older years. "I expect natural decrease to remain high in the future," he said.
Among the 20 fastest-growing large metropolitan areas last year, 16 grew faster than in 2011 and most of them are located in previously growing parts of the Sun Belt or Mountain West. Among the slowest-growing or declining metropolitan areas, most are now doing worse than in 2011 and they are all located in the Northeast and Midwest.
New York ranks tops in new immigrants among large metro areas, but also ranks at the top for young residents moving away.
In contrast, the Texas metropolitan areas of Dallas, Houston and Austin continued to be big draws for young adults, ranking first, second and fourth among large metro areas in domestic migration due to diversified economies that include oil and gas production. Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando also saw gains.
By region, growth in the Northeast slowed last year to 0.3 percent, the lowest since 2007; in the Midwest, growth dipped to 0.25 percent, the lowest in at least a decade. In the South and West, growth rates ticked up to 1.1 percent and 1.04 percent, respectively.
"The brakes that were put on migration during the Great Recession appear to be easing up," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the migration data. "Native migrants are becoming more `footloose' – following the geographic ups and downs of the labor market – than are immigrants, who have tended to locate in established ethnic communities in big cities."
"Immigration levels are not where they were a decade ago, but their recent uptick demonstrates the important safety valve they can be for areas with stagnating populations," he said.
Mark Mather, an associate vice president at the Population Reference Bureau, noted that political efforts to downsize government and reduce federal spending could also have a significant impact on future population winners and losers.
Since 2010, many of the fastest-growing U.S. metro areas have also been those that historically received a lot of federal dollars, including Fort Stewart, Ga., Jacksonville, N.C., Crestview, Fla., and Charleston-North Charleston, S.C., all home to military bases. Per-capita federal spending rose from about $5,300 among the fastest-growing metros from 2000 to 2010, to about $8,200 among the fastest-growing metros from 2011 to 2012.
"Federal funding has helped many cities weather the decline in private sector jobs," Mather said.
_Exurbs, the far-flung suburbs on the edge of metropolitan areas, continue to see their growth fizzle after their heady days during the housing boom. Growth dipped last year to 0.35 percent, the lowest in more than a decade. In 2006, exurban growth was as high as 2.1 percent.
_Roughly 46 percent of rural counties just beyond the edge of metropolitan areas experienced natural decrease, compared to 17 percent of urban counties.
_As a whole, the population of nonmetropolitan areas last year declined by 0.1 percent, compared with growth of 1 percent for large metro areas and 0.7 percent for small metropolitan areas.
_In the last year, four metro areas reached population milestones: Los Angeles hit 13 million, Philadelphia reached 6 million, Las Vegas crossed 2 million and Grand Rapids, Mich., passed 1 million.
_Chattahoochee County, Ga., home to Fort Benning, was the nation's fastest-growing county, increasing 10.1 percent in the last year.
The census estimates are based on local records of births and deaths, Internal Revenue Service records of people moving within the United States and census statistics on immigrants.
Also on HuffPost:
Prosecution For Financial Fraud Hit A 20-Year Low During The Obama Administration
Despite Obama's <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/06/why-can-t-obama-bring-wall-street-to-justice.html" target="_hplink">promises to crack down</a> on Wall Street, federal prosecutions of financial fraud hit a 20-year low last year, according to a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/financial-fraud-prosecution_n_1095933.html" target="_hplink">November study from a watchdog group</a>. The number of these types of prosecutions has been falling every year since 1999 -- in other words, there were more prosecutions during every year of George W. Bush's presidency than during every year of Obama's.
Income Inequality Is Worse Under Obama Than Under Bush
The rich took home a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/income-inequality-obama-bush_n_1419008.html" target="_hplink">greater share of America's income pie</a> from 2009 to 2010 than they did between 2002 and 2007, according to an April analysis from Emmanuel Saez, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That means the gap between the rich and the poor was more pronounced under Obama's presidency than under George W. Bush's.
Obama Wants To Lower The Corporate Tax Rate
Some of America's most profitable companies used a variety of loopholes to pay <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/major-corporations-tax-subsidies_n_1073548.html" target="_hplink">less than zero in taxes</a> between 2008 and 2010, according to a November 2011 report by the Citizens for Tax Justice. But the Obama administration wants to make it even easier for corporations to have a smaller tax bill; Obama proposed a tax overhaul that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/barack-obama-proposing-to_n_1292939.html" target="_hplink">cut the corporate tax rate</a> from 35 percent to 28 percent.
Health Care Reform Won't Make Health Care Cheaper For Most Americans
Once the health care law takes effect, insurance companies will be footing the bill for millions of previously uninsured Americans and for those who were denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. And health insurance companies will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/health-care-costs-rise_n_1440584.html" target="_hplink">likely pass on to consumers the cost</a> of insuring the new patients. After Massachusetts enacted a similar health care plan in 2006, premiums for an individual plan in the state <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/health-insurance-ruling-supreme-court-costs_n_1634555.html" target="_hplink">rose 18 percent</a> over three years.
Obama's Housing Programs Have Largely Been A Failure
In 2009, Obama announced the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, promising to help 3 to 4 million borrowers, but as of January -- more than three years into the program -- HAMP had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/hamp-loan-modification-expands_n_1237169.html" target="_hplink">only reached 1 million borrowers</a>. In an aim to give the program legs, administration <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/hamp-loan-modification-expands_n_1237169.html" target="_hplink">officials changed the rules</a> in January to make more borrowers eligible. Still, the fixes were likely too little too late, experts said at the time.
Homeowners Haven't Seen Much Out Of That Huge Mortgage Deal
The Obama Administration touted the $25 billion mortgage deal it reached with 49 states and the big banks to settle allegations that banks mishandled mortgages. As part of the settlement, banks said they would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/national-mortgage-settlement-_n_1589499.html" target="_hplink">offer at least $10 billion</a> in loan forgiveness to homeowners. But months after the deal was inked, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/debt-relief-mortgage-settlement_n_1839923.html" target="_hplink">banks have been slow</a> to hand out the money.
Democrats Have Received Lots Of Campaign Cash From Bain Employees
The Democratic National Convention will feature <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/03/bain-capital_n_1852302.html" target="_hplink">employees of firms run by Bain Capital</a> -- the private equity firm where Mitt Romney was formerly CEO -- likely in an aim to raise questions about Romney's tenure at the now-controversial company. But Democratic candidates and committees had <a href="http://articles.boston.com/2012-05-23/nation/31814221_1_obama-campaign-mitt-romney-romney-claims" target="_hplink">actually netted double the amount of campaign cash from Bain workers</a> as of May than their Republican counterparts since 2008, according to the <em>Boston Globe</em>. Now, Republicans are beating their Democratic colleagues in Bain cash, with <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/overview/topcontribs.php" target="_hplink">58 percent of donations from Bain</a> employees going to Republican candidates and parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. <strong>CORRECTION:</strong><em> An earlier version of this slide misstated that Democrats were receiving more donations from Bain employees than Republicans. That was the case in May. As of September Republicans are receiving more donations from Bain employees.</em>
Goldman And Other Wall St. Firms Have Largely Escaped Punishment For Their Role In The Financial Crisis
The announcement last month that the Justice Department wouldn't be prosecuting Goldman Sachs over allegations surrounding the financial crisis was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/matt-taibbi-eric-holder_n_1784167.html" target="_hplink">a reminder for many</a> that the Obama Administration has largely let banks off the hook for their role in the meltdown. And regulators and officials may be running out of time; <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/goldman-says-sec-has-ended-mortgage-investigation/?ref=business" target="_hplink">the statute of limitations</a> for crimes related to the financial crisis is fast approaching, according to <em>The New York Times</em>.
The Revolving Door Is Alive And Well In Obama Administration
Many current and former members of the Obama Administration have ties to Wall Street. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/wall-street-washington_n_1842517.html" target="_hplink">list includes</a> the president's current and former chiefs of staff -- Jacob Lew and Bill Daley, respectively -- as well as his former budget director, Peter Orszag, and others.
Too Big To Fail Banks Have Grown Under Obama
At the end of 2011, five big banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, held <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-16/obama-bid-to-end-too-big-to-fail-undercut-as-banks-grow.html" target="_hplink">56 percent of the U.S. economy</a>, according to Bloomberg, compared to 43 percent five years earlier. That's right, the too-big-to-fail banks have actually gotten bigger.
The U.S. Has Gained A Lot Of Low-Wage Jobs During The Recovery
Welcome to the U.S. of Low-Wage America. Most of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle wages, while most of those <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/low-wage-jobs_n_1846733.html" target="_hplink">gained during the recovery were low-wage jobs</a>, according to a recent study from the National Employment Law Project.
Incomes Declined More During The Recovery Than The Recession
Median <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/us/recession-officially-over-us-incomes-kept-falling.html" target="_hplink">household income fell 6.7 percent</a> between June 2009, when the recession technically ended, and June 2011, according to a Census Bureau study cited by <em>The New York Times</em>. That's more than the 3.2 percent incomes fell during the recession, between 2007 and 2009.
Payroll Tax Cut May Expire On Obama's Watch
Last December, congressional Democrats managed to save the payroll tax cut for one more year, giving 122 million workers a few extra bucks each paycheck, but now that <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444130304577561410867407728.html" target="_hplink">boost may quietly disappear</a>, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. That's because the White House won't be pushing for another payroll tax cut extension this year.
Many Top Obama Donors Are Employees Of Major Corporations
Of the top 10 companies with employees donating money to Obama's campaign, three are big banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, according to <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cid=N00009638" target="_hplink">the Center for Responsive Politics</a>. Some of Obama's other major contributors include employees from big companies such as Microsoft and Google.