Half of the 316 million people living in the United States live in one of the nation’s 145 most populous counties based on calculations of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 Population Estimates. With 3,143 counties nationwide, this means that half of the U.S. population lives in just 4.6% of all counties.
In North Carolina, half of the state’s nearly 10 million residents were living in 13 counties in 2013 (13% of the state’s 100 counties).
All 13 of these counties are within metropolitan areas. With 10.1% of the state’s population and just under 1 million residents in 2013, Mecklenburg, home to Charlotte, is the most populous county in the state. Three other counties in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) – Union, Gaston, Cabarrus – are among the 13 most populous counties in the state.
The state’s second most populous county, Wake, home to Raleigh, has nearly as many residents as Mecklenburg—974,000 in 2013, or 9.9% of the state’s population. Two other counties in the Raleigh area are also among the most populous – Durham County (#6), part of the larger Raleigh-Durham-Cary Combined Statistical Area (CSA) and Johnston County (#13).
Although Mecklenburg and Wake contain only 20% of the state’s population, they are projected to receive 42% of the state’s 1 million new residents between 2010 and 2020. These trends mean that by 2020, half of the state’s population will be contained in the state’s 12 most populous counties and Johnston County will fall off the list.