NC Municipal Population Growth, 2010-2015

Fifty-six percent of North Carolina residents (5.66 million) live in one of the state’s 553 cities, towns, and villages. Although five of the state’s municipalities are among the nation’s 100 largest cities—Charlotte (17), Raleigh (42), Greensboro (68), Durham (79), and Winston-Salem (88)—most are small. Half of North Carolina municipalities have fewer than 1,620 residents; nearly one in four have fewer than 500 residents.

The majority of these places cities experienced population losses or slow growth between 2010 and 2015, according to the most recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, 216 or 29% of municipalities lost population since 2010. Among municipalities with fewer than 1,620 residents, 55% lost population over this time period and another 33% grew by less than 5%, slower than the state’s overall increase.

Three cities have estimated population losses of more than 500 residents since 2010: Jacksonville (-2,788), Rocky Mount (-1,913), and Elizabeth City (-647).* Three of the five cities with the largest population losses had populations smaller than 20,000 in 2015. Among the five cities with the largest percentage population losses, the top four are in Northampton County; Lewiston Woodville Town is in Bertie.

4 places with largest percentage declines are in Northampton

North Carolina’s largest municipalities all experienced population growth. Among the state’s nine cities with more than 100,000 residents, eight experienced growth at or above the state average since 2010. Only Fayetteville City fell significantly below North Carolina growth trends, gaining an estimated 1,378 or 0.7% between 2010 and 2015. The state’s five cities with largest numeric growth since 2010 were among the top 100 for numeric increases in the nation: Charlotte (9), Raleigh (21), Durham (39), Cary (46), and Greensboro (72).

Three North Carolina municipalities have grown by over 50% since 2010: Rolesville in Wake County (66.1%), Holly Ridge in Onslow County (63.8%), and St. James in Brunswick County (55%). Waxhaw (Union County) and Fuquay-Varina (Wake County) round out the top 5.

Multiple Wake municipalities among fastest growing in state

Two of the top five municipalities with the largest numeric increases are in Wake County, as are two of the top five fastest-growing municipalities. Among the next five-fastest growing municipalities (#6-10), four are in Wake County: Morrisville (28.2%), Holly Springs (27.1%), Wake Forest (26.9%), and Knightdale (25%). Wake Forest was also #9 statewide for numeric growth and another Wake municipality, Apex, was #10 for numeric growth.

*Note: Population estimates from the state Office of Budget and Management from 2014 show similar trends for Rocky Mount and Elizabeth City, but differ markedly for Jacksonville (estimating a significant increase in population, not the decrease in the Census Bureau estimate). The Census Bureau and OSBM use different methods; the Census Bureau uses a method based solely on housing units while OSBM uses a combination of three estimation methodologies

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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