5 facts to know about migration between NC and other states

Migration is the main driver of North Carolina’s population growth. Three of every four new residents added to the state between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, were from net migration, primarily from other states. (Note: individuals are classified as domestic or international migrants based on their country of prior residence, not on individual characteristics such as place of birth or citizenship status.) Between 2016 and 2017, the Census Bureau estimates that North Carolina had more population growth from domestic net migration than any other state except for Florida and Texas.

1. Nearly 600,000 individuals moved between North Carolina and other states in 2016

While the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 1 population estimates provide the best data on net gains (or losses) from migration, the 1-year American Community Survey provides detail on the ebbs and flows of individuals across state lines.

During 2016, more than 322,000 individuals moved to North Carolina from another state while 261,000 North Carolina residents moved elsewhere in the United States. In total, just over 583,000 individuals moved between North Carolina and another state in 2016. This was the highest volume of migration between North Carolina and other states since 2007, the prior peak, when just over 565,000 individuals moved to or from North Carolina and other states.

2. Net domestic migration remains low compared to mid-2000s

Although the total number of people moving between North Carolina and other states has returned to pre-recession levels, more people are moving out and fewer are moving in. As a result, the state gained an estimated 61,000 net domestic migrants during 2016. While this is an increase from 2011-2014, it is down from 2015 and less than half the prior peak of 128,000 in 2006. Continue reading

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2020 Congressional Reapportionment: An Update

Every decade, following the decennial Census, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated to the 50 states based on their population. After the 2000 Census, 12 House seats shifted between the states; another 12 seats shifted after the 2010 Census. Two years ago, we explored how ongoing population shifts might impact the reapportionment process following the 2020 Census. At that time, the most recent population estimates were for 2014. Today we offer an updated look on those projections based on the recently released 2017 population estimates.

2020 Reapportionment

If current population trends continue through 2020, North Carolina will pick up the 14th House seat it narrowly missed in 2010. Under the Huntington-Hill method used to apportion congressional seats, North Carolina’s 14th District would be the 426th seat apportioned based on a linear extrapolation of the 2017 population estimates. In total, there would be a shift of 9 seats: 6 Southern and Western states would gain seats (Texas would add 3 seats and Florida would add 2 seats) and 9 predominantly Midwestern and Northeastern states would each lose one seat.

Here’s what is projected to happen based on population trends over the past 7 years:

Three Southern States Predicted to Gain Seats

Florida, North Carolina, and Texas would all gain seats based on current population trends. North Carolina would gain one seat while Florida could pick up 2 new seats and Texas may gain 3 additional seats.

Three Western States Predicted to Gain Seats

Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon would each gain one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives if current population trends continue through 2020.

Nine States Likely to Lose a Seat – Mostly from Midwest and Northeast

Between 2016-17, population growth occurred much faster in the Southern (1%) and Western (1%) regions of the United States than it did in the Midwest (0.3%) or Northeast (0.2%). This reflects a continuation of ongoing population shifts as U.S. residents have steadily relocated from Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. If trends continue, seven states in these two regions are projected to lose a congressional seat in 2020. These include Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio in the Midwest and New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island in the Northeast.

Although the South has experienced strong regional growth, the Southern states do not equally share this growth. Two Southern states (based on U.S. Census Bureau regional classifications) are projected to lose a seat in 2020: Alabama and West Virginia. No Western states are currently projected to lose a representative in 2020.

2017 vs. 2015: Similarities & Differences

In our 2015 analysis, we utilized the 2014 population estimates in conjunction with both state-produced population projections and projections derived from longer-term trends. While the current analysis evaluates only projections based on the 2017 population estimates, the results are generally consistent with the analysis completed in 2015. The table below highlights in bold the states where the 2017 predictions differ from 2015.

In 2015, our projections suggested the following scenarios that were different for the states in bold: Alabama (no change), Arizona (leans +1), California (leans +1), Colorado (leans +1), Florida (+1), Oregon (leans +1), Texas (+2), Virginia (+1).

For Alabama, persistent slow growth since 2010 has shifted it into the “Lose 1” category. Slow-downs in the growth rate of California and Virginia lead current projections to predict “no change,” while growth in Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon has continued steadily.


These projections are purely extrapolations of the population growth and change observed in the 2017 population estimates. The official 2020 Census count used for Congressional apportionment may differ from these projections for multiple reasons.

First, population trends can change significantly in ways that are inconsistent with prior trends. For example, North Dakota was among the fastest-growing states through 2015 and has lost population for the past two years. Second, these are population estimates; we will not know how close they are to the true count until the completion of the 2020 Census. Related to this, concerns about the risk of undercount in the 2020 Census and state-to-state differences in the prevalence of hard-to-count populations (see map) could influence reapportionment outcomes.


Projections to April 1, 2020 were calculated through the linear extrapolation total change from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2017. Congressional seats were allocated based on the Huntington-Hill method.

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NC population reaches 10.3 million in 2017

North Carolina’s population grew to an estimated 10.3 million people as of July 1, 2017, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

From July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017, the state’s population increased by nearly 117,000 individuals. This number surpassed last year’s total population increase and marks the largest single year increase in the state’s population since 2010. Among the states, North Carolina had the 5th largest numeric increase since 2016. Only Texas (400K), Florida (328K), California (240K), and Washington (125K) gained more residents over the past year.

With a growth rate of 1.1% since 2016, North Carolina continues to grow faster than the national average (0.7%), although it is not among the fastest-growing states. Between 2016-17, North Carolina had the 12th highest growth rate. The three fastest-growing states were western mountain states: Idaho (2.2%), Nevada (2%), and Utah (1.9%).

Migration is the engine of state growth

Since 2010, North Carolina’s population has grown by more than 737,000 residents, an increase of 7.7%. Sixty-four percent of this growth was due to net in-migration. In the most recent year, North Carolina received an estimated 86,200 net in-migrants (74% of total population growth). This was the largest year of in-migration for the state since the 2010 Census and was more in-migrants than received by any other state except for Florida, Texas, or Washington.

Most of these in-migrants were domestic migrants (66K), meaning that they moved to North Carolina from other states. North Carolina was ranked 4th among the states for total number of net in-migrants from 2016-17 but 3rd for domestic migrants (after Florida and Texas). The state receives relatively fewer international migrants (this includes immigrants and citizens returning to the U.S. from abroad, such as returning military personnel). From 2016-17, North Carolina received an estimated 20,000 international migrants, the 15th largest amount of any state.

North Carolina on track to near 10.6 million by 2020

These new estimates are consistent with the latest population projections from the State Demographer that project that North Carolina will have 10.6 million residents by 2020.

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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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