Arkansas’ population count is now well over 3 million residents after topping that historic mark more than a year ago as more U.S. and foreign-born residents continue to spill into urban centers across the South, according to year-end Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday (Dec. 19).
After officially jumping from 2,990,410 to 3,002,9997 residents between 2016 and 2017, the number of people living in the Natural State is now at 3,013,997, up 0.4% or 10,828 from a year ago. That slight increase now ranks Arkansas as the nation’s 33rd-largest state, sandwiched between the fast-growing state of Nevada at 3,034,392 residents and population-losing Mississippi with 2,986,530 denizens.
According to yearly population data compiled by the U.S. Census, Arkansas first surpassed Mississippi as the 32-largest state in 2016, prior to eclipsing the 3 million level in 2017. In 2018, however, Arkansas lost that position and was leapfrogged by Nevada, which held the 34th spot in the previous year.
Since 2010, when there were 2,915,918 people living in Arkansas, the state has seen a gradual 3.4% increase in the number of residents, mainly in the metropolitan areas in Northwest, Northeast and Central Arkansas. That rural-to-urban migration, along with an influx of out-of-state and foreign residents, has grown the state’s post-recession population by 97,797, about the same number of people living in Garland County.
Among the net population growth in Arkansas since 2010, there has been a “natural increase” of 63,000, which includes 314,960 new births minus 251,951 deaths. The remaining population growth of 34,163 residents comes from a continuing influx of both foreign (25,253) and out-of-state residents (8,910) moving to Arkansas for new jobs, affordable living, outdoor and hunting activities, or other reasons.
Pamela Willrodt, senior demographer for the U.S. Census State Data Center at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) in Little Rock, said this year’s data offers a possible demographic shift in the state’s aging population base, which saw the median age rise in all but five counties in 2017.
“What I found ‘different’ this time is Arkansas had an increase in natural increase. Births were estimated to be greater than deaths,” said Willrodt. “This is a great sign as is the increase in domestic migration.”
As noted in other population and economic data from the Census Bureau, housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce, Northwest Arkansas is seen as driving Arkansas’ most recent population spike, as well as robust job and income growth and record low unemployment levels.
Concerning the growing number of people moving to Arkansas, known as net in-migration, University of Arkansas economist Mervin Jebaraj told Talk Business & Politics at the end of the third quarter that about 70% of that net growth are new residents moving to Benton and Washington counties.
“That’s net in-migration, people moving to Northwest Arkansas from other parts of the state, from other parts of the country, and from other countries as well,” said Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the university’s Sam Walton College of Business.
U.S. POPULATION AT 327 MILLION, SOUTH IS FAST-GROWING REGION
Nationwide, the year-end U.S. Census Bureau estimates show there are 327,167,434 people living in the country as the nation enters 2019, a 6% growth or gain of 18,409,329 from a base of 308,758,105 residents in 2010. On a yearly basis, this represents an increase of 2,020,313, or 0.6% from 2017, meaning the U.S. this year is expected to experience one birth every eight seconds and one death every 10 seconds.
As noted, Nevada and Idaho were the nation’s fastest-growing states between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018 as both states’ populations increased by about 2.1% in the last year alone. Just behind, the other states with the largest percentage increases in population were Utah (1.9%), Arizona (1.7%), and Florida and Washington (1.5% each).
Numerically, Texas easily ranked first with 379,128 new residents flowing to that state in 2018, followed next by Florida (322,513) and California (157,696), respectively. North Carolina and Washington rounded out the top five with an influx of 112,820 and 110,159 and 116,730 new residents.
Population declines in 2018 were also common with losses occurring in nine states and Puerto Rico. The nine states that lost population were New York (48,510), Illinois (45,116), West Virginia (11,216), Louisiana (10,840), Hawaii (3,712), Mississippi (3,133), Alaska (2,348), Connecticut (1,215) and Wyoming (1,197).
Nationally, Census Bureau officials said the natural increase in U.S. population was 1.04 million last year, reflecting 3,855,500 births and 2,814,013 deaths. With fewer births in recent years and the number of deaths increasing, the natural increase tally has steadily declined over the past decade – peaking at nearly 1.8 million in 2008.
“Many states have seen fewer births and more deaths in recent years,” said Sandra Johnson, a demographer/statistician in the Population Division of the Census Bureau. “If those states are not gaining from either domestic or international migration they will experience either low population growth or outright decline.”
Among the surprises, Washington, D.C., reached a population of 702,455 in July 2018, surpassing 700,000 for the first time since 1975. The change is due primarily to an influx of people from other parts of the country that began early in the decade. While the increase has begun to slow, the D.C. area still grew by almost one percent last year, officials said.
The new population estimates also show that hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico has continued to see a decline in the number of residents, with an estimated population loss of 3.9% or 129,848 people over the past year. The island nation had a total population of 3,195,153 in 2018, a stark decline of 14.3% from 3,726,157 in 2010. Census Bureau officials said the decline is primarily due to higher rates of people leaving the U.S. territory over in-migration and natural increase.
“Puerto Rico has seen a steady decline in population over the last decade,” said Johnson. “Hurricane Maria in September of 2017 further impacted that loss, both before and during the recovery period.”
Meanwhile, the nation’s southern growth trend continued in 2018 as the fast-growing South region has now amassed a total population of 124,753,948, an increase of 0.9% or 1,115,524. The smaller and second-fastest growing West region matched that 0.9% increase over the past year, adding 673,677 to the total population count of 77,993,663, Census Bureau estimates show.
Growth across the agriculture-dependent Midwest region was tepid at only 0.2% or 152,709, pushing the total number of residents to 68,308,744. The Northeast U.S., which includes New York and other states with declining population bases, saw flat growth of only 0.1% or 38,403. That region, which includes the nation’s largest metropolitan area in New York City, now is the nation’s smallest population center with only 56,111,079 residents, census estimates show.
Other key highlights from the new Census Bureau population estimates show that Florida had the highest level of net domestic migration in the last year, at 132,602. Since 2010, Florida has gained a total of 1,160,387 people from net domestic migration. Also, the voting age population, those 18 years and over, increased by 0.9% to 253,768,092 people in 2018.
In the upcoming year, the Census Bureau will release estimates of the 2018 population for counties, cities and towns, and metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, as well as national, state and county population data by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin. Population estimates for Puerto Rico will be released as well, including those counties and cities affected by the 2017 hurricane season.