Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released
the 2013 county population estimates, allowing a closer look at population changes
on a local level. NACo’s previous
analysis of 2013 state and regional trends revealed that U.S. population
continued to grow between 2012 and 2013 overall, but at a slightly slower rate
than in the previous year. Population expansion at the county level shows wider
variation within state or regional trends, often driven by the local economic
The population slowdown happened in almost half of all the counties
across the country. More than half of
counties in 14 states – including Alaska, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania –
experienced slower population growth in 2013 than in the previous year. Alaska had the largest share of boroughs undergoing
a population slowdown, with 16 out of the total 19 witnessing a deceleration.
But counties saw population expansion in 2013 and at the
lower end of growth rates, stabilization.
Consistent with regional
findings, many of the fastest growing counties were counties in the South
and Midwest. Most often, these are small
counties (with less than 50,000 residents) with expanding oil industries; of
the 30 fastest growing counties in 2013, nine of them are located in North
Dakota and 11 are in Texas. For example,
McKenzie County, ND’s population skyrocketed by 17 percent. The county – located on the Bakken Formation
– produced 8.4
million barrels of oil in January 2014 alone, making it the highest oil
producing county in North Dakota.
Population trends in counties with declining populations
showed signs towards stabilization. Almost
70 percent of counties who saw their population shrink between 2011 and 2012 had
lesser declines, and in some cases population growth in 2013. Looking at the bottom 50 cases, population
contracted by 4 percent on average in 2012.
In contrast, the following year, the population in these 50 counties stopped
declining, remaining virtually the same as in 2012. For the most part, these 50 counties are small
counties scattered throughout the West, Midwest and parts of the South.
These local population trends show what counties are in the
midst of rapid population changes. While
population growth comes often on the heels of economic expansion, counties
often cannot keep up with the needs of their communities and infrastructure due
to the current structure of the county funding.
Counties are creatures of the state, so often funds for essential
services such as maintenance of roads and bridges depend on state support. As
county population patterns keep changing, counties have to adapt to deliver
services to their residents.