North Carolina’s population grew by 112,000 between 2015 and 2016, the largest single year increase since 2010, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. With a growth rate of 1.1%, North Carolina’s 2015-16 growth was faster than the national growth rate (0.7%) and similar to the South’s regional rate (1.1%). Overall, North Carolina’s population has grown by 611,000 since 2010, an increase of 6.4%.
The uptick in population growth was fueled by an increase in net migration: North Carolina received 81,000 net migrants between 2015 and 2016. This was the fifth largest inflow of any state after Florida (346K), Texas (221K), Washington (94K), and Arizona (83K). Net migration accounted for nearly three of every four new residents to the state.
Meanwhile, natural increase (births minus deaths) declined to the lowest level recorded in the state since 1970. Between 2015 and 2016, nearly 121,000 babies were born in North Carolina and 90,000 individuals died, a net population gain from natural increase of just 31,000. This is a marked decline from 2007, when North Carolina added nearly 55,000 new residents due to natural increase (131,000 births and 76,000 deaths), the largest numeric gain from natural increase in state history.
The declining influence of natural increase on population growth reflects the combined impact of two factors. First, fertility rates dropped sharply after the Great Recession and have remained low. Second, population aging increases the size of the population at older ages where mortality rates are higher. In 2007, there were 1.1 million individuals 65 and older in North Carolina, representing 12% of the state’s population. As of 2015, the state population of 65 and older had increased to 1.5 million and older adults made up 15% of the total population.
Even if fertility levels were to rebound fully to pre-recession levels, natural increase would not, due to population aging. Over the next two decades, North Carolina’s population will be increasingly concentrated at older ages. North Carolina’s 65 and older population is projected to surpass 2 million by 2024. By 2030, one in every five North Carolinians will be 65 or older. As a result, net migration will be the predominant source of future growth in the state. Migration accounted for 72% of the state’s growth last year; by 2030-36, net migration is projected to be the source of 90% of statewide growth.