NC’s Metropolitan Areas Central to Growth Since 2010

Topline data from the Census Bureau’s recently released 2017 municipal population estimates  shows little change from previous years’ estimates. Municipalities located near major metropolitan areas continue to grow, while North Carolina’s rural communities continue to experience population decline.

255 NC municipalities, or 46%, have experienced either population decline or zero-percent growth since 2010. Adding municipalities with stagnant growth – i.e. those that grew slower than the state growth rate of 8% – this totals over three in four municipalities in the state (77%). Just 125 municipalities are growing on par or faster than the state since 2010, many of which are located around the Charlotte, Triangle, and Wilmington metropolitan areas.

The ten municipalities with the largest percentage growth from 2010 to 2017 were ranked in the top ten in 2016, as well. More than half—6 out of 10—are in Wake County. The remaining are represented by Brunswick County (St. James and Leland), Onslow County (Holly Ridge), or Union County (Waxhaw). St. James, Leland, and Holly Ridge are located in the southeastern portion of the state – notable for its high appeal to retirees and rapid growth in this decade – while Waxhaw falls within the Charlotte metro area.

All municipalities in this list have increased by over a third or more of their 2010 population. Rolesville (Wake County), the fastest-growing municipality in the state, has officially doubled its population in less than a decade, growing by 3,853 residents or 103% since 2010. Nonetheless, the majority of these fastest-growing municipalities appear to have hit their growth peak in this decade; just three municipalities experienced their single-largest year of numeric growth in 2017 – Knightdale, Morrisville, and Leland.

The top 10 municipalities with the greatest numeric growth since 2010 also experienced no change since last year’s estimates. This list is comprised entirely of principal cities in North Carolina’s major metros, or their neighboring suburbs with populations of 40,000 inhabitants or more.  The combined numeric growth of these ten municipalities accounted for nearly half of the total state population growth (47%) from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.

2017 was also a banner year for several of these municipalities with the largest numeric growth over the decade. From July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017, Wilmington (New Hanover), Concord (Cabarrus), and Apex (Wake) experienced their single-largest year of growth. This suggests a continuing pattern of growth around metro suburbs, and a shift towards southeastern North Carolina.

Errata Note: A previous version of this blog incorrectly listed the entry for “Apex” as “Winston-Salem”, and vice versa, in the second table (Largest Numeric Growth). All data is correct in both tables, and the two entries have been corrected.

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Which States Contribute the Most Domestic Migrants?

Migration is the major source of North Carolina’s population growth. What states send North Carolina the most migrants?

The Census Bureau releases annual estimates on domestic and international migration flows for residents of the United States and Puerto Rico. American Community Survey respondents provide details on their place of residence one year ago and the state in which they currently live. The top 10 highest contributing states for North Carolina’s in-migrants in 2016 were Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Georgia, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.

This wide range of places raises the question: what is the main driving force behind one’s decision to relocate to a new state?

As the map below illustrates, geographic proximity unquestionably influences who moves to North Carolina: eight of the top ten states are located on the Atlantic coast. This phenomenon is consistent with one law of Ravenstein’s theory of human migration, which notes that the “majority of migrants move a short distance.” After ranking each state according to how many in-migrants it contributed in 2016, a noticeable pattern emerges. As the distance from North Carolina increases, fewer individuals from a state tend to move to North Carolina and the state’s ranking declines. Nevertheless, what might explain states like Texas or California?

Ravenstein’s theory also states that individuals who move longer distances typically relocate to areas with abundant economic opportunities. Several of North Carolina’s fastest-growing industries – banking and finance, biotech, and information technology – have played a major role in drawing outside talent to particular areas of the state. Counties within the Charlotte metro and the Research Triangle tend to have the largest percentages of non-native residents. These places may serve as a draw to individuals relocating from more distant states.

Finally, these rankings are not without inherent issues. Many of these states are smaller than North Carolina, so what may be a minor contribution to North Carolina’s population is a sizable portion of another’s. Similarly, two of our largest contributing states—California and Texas—are highly populous, meaning large numbers of migrants to North Carolina may be a relatively smaller proportion of the state’s population. North Carolina is the 11th most common destination for California movers and the 14th most common destination for Texas movers.

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NC in Focus: 2016 Veteran Snapshot

Just over 666,000 veterans lived in North Carolina in 2016 according to the most recent American Community Survey estimates. This is a decrease of roughly 15,000 veterans or -2.2% from 2013, the year we last profiled North Carolina’s veterans. Nationally, the veteran population decreased at an even faster rate over this time (-5.6%). The U.S. veteran population declined from 19.6 million in 2013 to 18.5 million in 2016, a loss of 1.1 million veterans.

While the veteran population has been steadily declining, the total adult population continues to grow. As a result, veterans comprise a smaller share of the civilian adult population. In North Carolina, veterans now make up 8.6% of the adult population, down from 9.1% in 2013. Nationally, veterans are an even smaller share of the adult population: 7.4% in 2016 versus 8.1% in 2013.


North Carolina’s veterans are much older, on average, then the non-veteran adult population. Forty-five percent (45%) of NC veterans are 65 or older compared to just 18% of non-veteran adults. Just 10% of the state’s veterans are between the ages of 18 and 34, less than one-third the share of non-veterans (31%) in this age group.

Reflecting this older age structure, North Carolina veterans are more likely to have a disability than non-veterans. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of the state’s veterans reported a disability in 2016 compared to 16% of the state’s non-veterans.


Though North Carolina’s veterans are predominantly male, the female population of veterans is growing. In 2016, one in every ten veterans (10%) in the state was female, higher than the national average of 8.6%. The population of female veterans increased from just over 63,000 individuals in 2013 to nearly 68,000 in 2016.

Race & Ethnicity

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Obstacles & Opportunities for Educational Attainment in NC

This post initially appeared as part of the Hunt Institute’s My Future NC’s blog series.


Demographic changes in the composition of North Carolina’s child population will likely introduce new challenges to reaching any goal of increasing statewide educational attainment. In Fall 2017, 44 percent or 674,000 North Carolina public school enrollments were black, Hispanic, or American Indian students. Over the past 5 years, this group of students has grown twice as fast as the overall student population and is projected to continue to grow steadily for the next 5-10 years.

Compared to the state average, North Carolina’s American Indian, black, and Hispanic students are:

  • Less likely to report plans to continue their education after high school. 

    Eighty-four percent of North Carolina public high school graduates reported plans to continue their education at either a four-year, two-year, or trade school in 2015. While most Hispanic (77%), American Indian (80%), and black (81%) students also report postsecondary plans, they are more likely than their white and Asian peers to report plans to enlist in the military or start employment instead.

  • Less likely to enroll at UNC or an NC Community College. 

    Forty-two percent of North Carolina’s young adults (18-24) without a college degree* were enrolled in the UNC or NC Community College System in 2015. Enrollment rates for the state’s black and Hispanic populations were much lower at 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

  • Less likely to have completed a college degree (AA+). 

    Statewide, 14 percent of all young adults age 18-24 reported holding an associate degree or higher in 2015. American Indian (4%), black (7%), and Hispanic (7%) young adults reported degree completion rates far below the state average.

  • More likely to be first-generation college students. 

    Most Hispanic children—89 percent in 2015— live in a household where no parent or guardian has completed a college degree (AA+). Two-thirds of the state’s black children (64%) and 60 percent of American Indian children would also be first-generation college students. Asian (36%) and white (37%) children are significantly less likely to live in a household where no adult has a college degree.

Programs that reach, engage, and successfully enroll, retain, and graduate our state’s growing population of first-generation and minority students will be vital to ensure North Carolina’s progress towards any statewide attainment goal. Failure to improve these outcomes is not only detrimental to the future economic well-being of these children and their families: it will ensure that our state’s primary path to future attainment growth will be the continued reliance on in-migration of highly educated individuals from other states and countries.



*Note: The population without a college degree is defined here as just those most ready for a degree: individuals who have completed high school or a GED/equivalent. Reporting is limited to black and Hispanic populations as the American Indian population is too small to derive reliable estimates.
Data Sources: NC DPI, 2015 American Community Survey, IPEDS, UNC-GA, and NCCCS
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The 2020 census, citizenship, and potential impacts on NC

Note: A version of this post first appeared on the Capital Broadcasting Opinion pages. Since initial publication, North Carolina has joined 16 other states in a lawsuit attempting to block the addition of the citizenship question to the census in 2020. 


Once every 10 years, we count all individuals living in the United States in the census. In 2010, respondents were asked ten questions about basic characteristics, such as age, sex, race, and homeownership status. Last week, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that census respondents will answer one additional question in 2020: citizenship status. Introducing an additional, untested question so late in the census life cycle is concerning to demographers and social scientists, like me, who rely on the census as a key source of information about how and why our population is changing.

The concern about the newly added question is not related to its content. We have a long history of asking Americans about their citizenship status surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, including the full census (of all Americans) from 1890 to 1950. The concern is the addition of this question without the standard rigor and vetting process the Bureau typically takes for adding new census questions. Without this research, we do not understand how it will impact response rates, accuracy, and overall costs.

The census is one of the most important activities of our government. It is the foundation of our representative democracy. Every decade, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divided among the states based on their total population in the most recent census. The census also determines the allocation of more than half a trillion dollars of federal funds, including more than $16 billion annually to North Carolina.

Counting everyone who lives in the United States—and counting them accurately—is hard to do. One of the Census Bureau’s biggest challenges in obtaining a count of all residents is non-response. When households do not complete their census form, the Bureau sends individual enumerators door-to-door to try to obtain the required information. In 2010, it cost nearly $33 million to follow-up with the 975,000 North Carolina households that did not initially complete the federally mandated census form. Nationwide, non-response follow-up efforts cost more than $1.5 billion.

High rates of non-response also raise the risk of a net undercount. In 2010, the overall census count was highly accurate, but certain populations were undercounted, meaning they were missed in the census totals. Renters, black men, American Indians living on reservations, and Hispanics were among the groups with higher rates of undercount in 2010. But the highest rate of undercount was for young children ages 0 to 4. In North Carolina, the Bureau estimates that more than 25,000 young children were not counted in 2010, the 8th largest number of any state.

Non-response in 2020 may be even higher, for many reasons. The U.S. population is larger and harder to count than ever before. Overall response rates to statistical surveys have been declining steadily for the past few decades and Americans are increasingly distrustful of government data collection efforts. If the newly added question increases non-response among immigrant communities as some worry, this could have far-reaching impacts on North Carolina.

Nearly 800,000 immigrants were living in North Carolina in 2016, representing 8 percent of the total population, with high concentrations in both urban and rural communities. Higher non-response and a greater undercount of the immigrant population could exacerbate the undercount of children in North Carolina in 2020. Between 2000 and 2016, our state had the fourth largest numeric increase in children born to immigrant parents. Today, one in six North Carolina children—365,000—are U.S.-born citizens who live in a household with at least one immigrant parent. If these children become harder to count, the state could receive fewer funds for critical programs that help to ensure healthy growth and development for all children, such as Head Start and the School Lunch Program. At the local level, school districts may face challenges planning for the future if the 2020 data does not fully capture the population they will soon serve.

Of course, the impacts of this new question on overall response rates, accuracy, and costs could be negligible. Unfortunately, the citizenship question was officially added after the Census Bureau had already begun its 2018 End-to-End test in Providence, Rhode Island. The Bureau uses this “dress rehearsal” to identify any challenges that need to be addressed prior to the full census in 2020. Without testing properly ahead of time, we won’t know the potential consequences of this change until it may be too late to address them. When the data you are collecting influences the distribution of political power and money for the next ten years, that’s a dangerous risk to take.

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