NC in Focus: Revisiting the 2016 Population Estimates

Earlier this year, we discussed in a series of blog posts the recent 2016 Census Bureau population estimates for North Carolina. While some municipalities in North Carolina have experienced stable, even explosive growth since 2010, a large portion have experienced little to no population growth in this decade. We are revisiting these estimates with a series of maps of North Carolina’s municipalities. When visualized spatially, several aspects of North Carolina’s unique growth patterns are revealed.

Rural and Urban Areas in North Carolina

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

North Carolina is notable for its persistent rurality compared with other states. Rural areas are defined as having fewer than 2,500 residents, the Census Bureau’s threshold for an “Urban Cluster”. As of the 2016 population estimates, 326 of North Carolina’s municipalities had fewer than 2,500 residents. By this threshold, over half (59%) of all cities and towns in the state are rural. These small municipalities exist in nearly every county of the state. Collectively, these municipalities grew by just 1.4% since 2010, adding a combined total of 3,771 new residents.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

At the other extreme, there are just nine municipalities in North Carolina with a population greater than 100,000 in 2016: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Cary, Wilmington, and High Point.

Population Growth Concentrated in Urban Areas

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

These seven municipalities were responsible for 45% of the state’s entire growth from 2010-2016. Since the last decennial Census in 2010, North Carolina has seen its urban metropolitan areas grow consistently larger, while small municipalities have struggled to maintain population.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Per the most recent estimates, 225 of North Carolina’ municipalities, or 41%, experienced population decline in this decade. The map above reveals the spatial correlation between municipalities with diminishing populations and rural areas. In general, population decline tends to take place in North Carolina’s smallest communities. In order to assess population development in the next decade, it is necessary to also examine municipal populations which have lagged behind the state.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Stagnant growth is defined as any population which grew slower than the state average of 6.4% from 2010 to 2016. Three in four municipalities meet this figure, including some important cities: Winston-Salem and Fayetteville. Winston-Salem grew by about 5.5% from 2010 to 2016, just under the state average of 6.4%. The Census Bureau estimates that Fayetteville’s population increased by just 2%.

Please note: the population estimates produced by the state demographer differ from those produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. The overall methodology and the specific data used to measure group quarters – in this instance, military barracks – differs between the two agencies. While the state demographer has documented Fayetteville’s population growth as twice as much since 2010 as the Census’ estimate, it still lags behind the state average at just 4% growth since 2010.

In summary, North Carolina’s rural municipalities span the entire perimeter of the state and make up more than half of the state’s total cities and towns. North Carolina’s 7 largest municipalities contain roughly 2% of the state’s total land mass and accounted for nearly half of its total growth in this decade. A sizable portion of the state municipalities have been in decline since 2010, particularly among those with a population less than 2,500. A large majority of municipal populations have declined or grown slower than the state, revealing the select few areas driving the state’s overall growth.

Errata: Carolina Demography originally listed seven municipalities with populations over 100,000 in 2016. There are in fact nine municipalities with populations of 100,000 residents or greater.

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NC in Focus: College Student Impact on Local Poverty Rates

Colleges and universities can have a significant impact on local demographic and economic statistics. College towns tend to see inflated poverty rates: more off-campus students (as share of population) corresponds to higher poverty rates. In Boone, North Carolina, for example, off-campus students at Appalachian State University make up 57% of the local population* and the local poverty rate is 62%.

Some of these poor individuals may be college students who are choosing not to work or working only part-time, relying instead on a combination of loans or grants, credit cards, and savings and parental assistance when it is available. Others may be college students for whom poverty is a very serious challenge. But many are not college students at all. Understanding the impact of college students on local poverty rates is vital for local leaders to fully understand and track the economic well-being of their population.

Using the recently released 2012-2016 American Community Survey five-year estimates, the U.S. Census Bureau published two tables that identify counties and communities where off-campus college students significantly impact local poverty rates. Limiting their evaluation to locations with populations of 10,000 or more, the report found:

  • 211 counties and 226 places had statistically significant reductions in local poverty rates when off-campus college students were excluded.
  • 8 North Carolina places and their 8 parent counties saw statistically significant reductions in local poverty rates when off-campus college students were excluded. These included Boone (Watauga), Chapel Hill (Orange), Charlotte (Mecklenburg), Durham (Durham), Greensboro (Guilford), Greenville (Pitt), Raleigh (Wake), and Wilmington (New Hanover).
  • Boone, NC, had the largest reduction in poverty rates among all U.S. places evaluated. Local poverty rates dropped from 62% to 20% after excluding off-campus college students, a reduction of 42 percentage points.
  • Among U.S. counties, Watauga had the 4th largest reduction in poverty, declining from 31% to 17%.

Note: Here, the local population is defined as the “poverty universe,” meaning the group of individuals for whom poverty status is determined. Poverty statistics are not calculated for individuals living in college dormitories. Individuals living in military barracks, people living in institutional group quarters, and children under age 15 who are not related to the householder are also excluded from the poverty universe. Off-campus college students includes all students who are enrolled in college and not living in dormitories or living with their families.
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NC in Focus: Turkeys in North Carolina, 2017

Turkey production is important to the farming sector of North Carolina. In fact, total poultry production – including turkeys, eggs and broiler chickens – is North Carolina’s top agricultural industry, making up 40% of the state’s farm income. Data from the USDA on “turkey disappearance” per capita in the United States indicated a slight uptick from about 16 pounds annually from 2012-2015 to over 16.5 pounds in 2016 and 2017 (projected). As poultry consumption increases across the country and worldwide, North Carolina is likely to benefit.

Here’s what else you should know about turkeys in North Carolina:

33.5 million

Number of birds produced by North Carolina in 2016.

1.2 billion

Number in pounds of turkey produced in 2016 – that’s 35.9 pounds of meat per bird.


North Carolina’s ranking nationally in overall turkey production, behind Minnesota.

We noted previously that North Carolina saw its peak in total production in 1993 at 62 million birds. However, higher production efficiency and technological advancement have had a major influence in decreases of total bird output, as more meat can be produced by a single bird.

In this instance, North Carolina ranks 2nd behind Indiana in terms of efficiency, or average meat production per bird.


North Carolina’s share of total turkey production, per bird, in the United States.

$993 million

This is the estimate value of North Carolina’s turkey industry in 2016. That’s an additional 224 million dollars from its valuation in 2013!


Number of turkey operations with sales in 2012. (Note: the USDA has updated this figure since we last reported on it in 2014.)


Share of state turkey production held by Sampson and Duplin counties in 2016. Sampson produced 8.5 million turkeys (25%) last year, while Duplin produced 5.2 million (16%). This is actually a sizable decrease from 2012, when these two counties produced over half of all of North Carolina’s turkeys.

Lenoir County

This county saw the fastest growth in turkey production from 2015 to 2016 at roughly 10%.

This data was sourced from the USDA Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service, in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
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NC in Focus: Sweet Potatoes, 2017

North Carolina’s agricultural industry contributes $84 billion to the state’s economy and employs more than 1 in 6 North Carolina Workers, according to the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Two of the state’s lead agricultural products—sweet potatoes and turkeys—will grace many Thanksgiving tables on Thursday.

Here’s a quick look at sweet potatoes by the numbers:


North Carolina’s rank in sweet potato production. North Carolina has led the nation in sweet potato production since 1971. Our state produces nearly three times as many sweet potatoes as California (629 million pounds), the second highest producing state. Mississippi (493 million) had the third highest production in 2016, followed by Louisiana (152 million). All other states combined produced just 180 million pounds of sweet potatoes in 2016.

1.7 billion

The number of pounds of sweet potatoes produced in North Carolina in 2016. This is the largest amount ever produced and exceeds total U.S. production from just ten years prior in 2006. Although Hurricane Matthew’s threatened the state’s sweet potato crop in October 2016, much of the crop had already been harvested, preventing even greater damage.


The share of U.S. sweet potatoes produced in North Carolina in 2016. For the past three years, North Carolina has produced the majority of sweet potatoes in the United States.


Number of North Carolina counties that produce more sweet potatoes than the state of Louisiana. In 2016, Louisiana produced 152 million pounds of sweet potatoes, the 4th largest amount of any state. Four North Carolina counties—Sampson (272 million), Wilson (213 million), Nash (184 million), and Johnston (179 million)—produced even more.

*Note: not all counties report production values. Edgecombe County is among the state’s leading producers of sweet potatoes but did not report specific values in 2016.

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NC in Focus: Halloween

As the month of October comes to a close, we reach the first holiday of the autumn season: Halloween. To help you prepare, we’ve put together a guide to the number of trick-or-treaters in the state this year, and a map of where one can expect to get the most visitors! We’ve also run the numbers on North Carolina’s contribution to the holiday, by way of its numerous candy factories and stores.

This year, we took inspiration from the Census Mapper team in Canada who have mapped trick-or-treaters in the Vancouver area by density and by total children per dwelling for the last several years.

Below, you will find our own map featuring the census tracts which make up several of North Carolina’s cities. Each census tract displays its trick-or-treater density: the number of children of trick-or-treating age (5-14 years old) per square kilometer. When clicked on, the census tract will list the total children located there, the density of the tract, and the age breakdown of the potential trick-or-treaters. Due to limited memory, we chose to highlight the cities in North Carolina with the greatest density of trick-or-treaters.

Trick-or-Treaters Map, Select Areas

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Happy Halloween from Carolina Demography!

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