Madison County grows 3.2%, faster than any Arkansas county

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,494 views 

According to new Census Bureau estimates, Madison County’s population rose the fastest in Arkansas and was the 96th fastest-growing U.S. county from 2021 to 2022. Still, Benton County was the state’s largest-gaining county, adding about half of Madison County’s population.

The U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday (March 30) county population estimates as of July 1, 2022, that show Madison County’s population rose by 3.2% from 2021 to 2022. Over the same period, Benton County’s population increased by 2.9%, the second-fastest in the state.

Benton County, the second-largest Arkansas county, was the state’s fastest-growing county between 2020 and 2022, and Madison County grew faster from 2021 to 2022. Madison County is part of the Northwest Arkansas metro area, including Benton and Washington counties.

Alison Wright, data center division head for the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, said Madison County ranks No. 96 of the 3,144 U.S. counties based on percent growth in population from 2021 to 2022.

Wright said Benton County ranks No. 55 of the 3,144 U.S. counties based on numeric population growth of 8,526 from 2021 to 2022.

Over the period, Benton County’s population rose to 302,863 from 294,337. Since April 1, 2020, its population grew by 6.5%, adding 18,534 people. For comparison, Arkansas’ population rose by 17,515 people from 2021 to 2022 and by 34,082 since April 1, 2020, according to the Census Bureau.

From 2021 to 2022, Madison County’s population rose by 550 to 17,486 people. Over the period, it grew from the 43rd-most populous county in the state to the 40th-most populous. Since April 1, 2020, its population rose by 5.8%, adding 965 people.

Pulaski County remains the state’s most populous county, with a population of 399,145. In 2022, its population rose by 0.3% from 398,069 in 2021. The population narrowly declined from 399,246 in 2020.

Wright said Pulaski County ranks No. 185 of the 3,144 U.S. counties based on the July 1, 2022, population estimate of 399,145.

Washington County is the third most populous Arkansas county and grew by 1.7% to 256,054 in 2022 from 2021. Since April 1, 2020, its population rose by 4.1%, adding 10,188 people.

Sebastian County is fourth, and its population rose by 0.5% to 129,059 in 2022 from 2021. Since April 1, 2020, its population increased by 1%, adding 1,259 people.

Craighead County is seventh; its population increased by 1.1% to 113,017 in 2022 from 2021. Since April 1, 2020, its population rose by 1.6%, adding 1,784 people.

Wright attributed the growth in the largest Arkansas counties to natural increase, more births than deaths, and net migration, more people moving there than away from there. Net migration includes moves from other counties in the state, other states or outside the country. Benton County had the state’s largest gain in international migration, or those moving there from outside the United States. Madison County had a natural decrease or more deaths than births, so net migration contributed to its gain.

“We only have seven counties that have a natural increase, so only seven counties in Arkansas saw more births than deaths (from 2021 to 2022),” Wright said. “It’s a trend nationwide. It’s not uncommon because the aging population is causing that and people waiting to have children.”

Statewide, Wright said 37 counties lost population, while 36 counties gained. Two experienced no change. She said counties in the Delta continue to report population declines, and some counties that gained had reported decreases in the previous year.

She noted that the change might’ve been related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Clark County went from losing population to gaining population. The switch might be because of the colleges located there and students switching from virtual to in-person classes. Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University are both in the county.

Other counties, such as Independence and Pulaski, also went from losing population in 2021 to gaining population in 2022. Both counties also are home to colleges and universities.

Wright said most of the counties that lost population experienced a natural decrease and negative net migration, which happens when more people move from the county than into it. For example, the population of Jefferson County declined by 1,403 people to 64,246 in 2022 from 2021. The county experienced a natural decrease and negative net migration. Since April 1, 2020, more than 2,400 people have moved from the county.

Nationwide, population changes are returning to pre-pandemic trends, according to the Census Bureau. All 10 of the top fastest-growing counties were in the South or West.

“The migration and growth patterns for counties edged closer to pre-pandemic levels this year,” said Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s population division. “Some urban counties, such as Dallas and San Francisco, saw domestic outmigration at a slower pace between 2021 and 2022, compared to the prior year. Meanwhile, many counties with large universities saw their populations fully rebound this year as students returned.”

Between 2021 and 2022, the population rose in 52.5% of U.S. counties and declined in 47.1% or was flat in 0.3% of them. The smallest counties, or those with less than 10,000 people, experienced more population decrease (60.8%) than increases (38.3%), while the largest counties, or those with at least 100,000 people, mostly experienced population increases (68%).

Whitman County, Wash., was the fastest-growing U.S. county between 2021 and 2022, with a 10.1% growth rate – the most of any county with more than 20,000 people. Half of the top 10 fastest-growing counties were in Texas. The remainder were in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Maricopa County, Ariz., was the largest-gaining U.S. county, adding 56,831 residents between 2021 and 2022. Harris County, Texas, had the second-largest gain, adding 45,626 residents over the period. Texas had six of the top 10 largest-gaining counties in 2022, while Florida had three.

Los Angeles County, Calif., and Cook County, Ill., remain the most populous U.S. counties with a population of 9.72 million and 5.1 million, respectively. However, the most populous counties are increasingly located in the South and West. In 2022, 63 of the 100 most populous U.S. counties were in the two regions, up from 61 the previous year and 58 in 2010.

Following are population estimates for the 10 largest Arkansas counties:

No. 1, Pulaski

2022: 399,145

2021: 398,069

2020: 399,246

No. 2, Benton

2022: 302,863

2021: 294,337

2020: 286,586

No. 3, Washington

2022: 256,054

2021: 251,692

2020: 246,756

No. 4, Sebastian

2022: 129,059

2021: 128,425

2020: 127,800

No. 5: Faulkner

2022: 127,665

2021: 125,645

2020: 123,811

No. 6, Saline

2022: 127,357

2021: 125,319

2020: 123,815

No. 7, Craighead

2022: 113,017

2021: 111,788

2020: 111,603

No. 8: Garland

2022: 100,089

2021: 100,386

2020: 100,249

No. 9, White

2022: 77,755

2021: 77,157

2020: 76,851

No. 10, Lonoke

2022: 75,225

2021: 74,766

2020: 74,046

Following are the fastest-growing counties from 2021 to 2022, listed with growth percentages:

No. 1, Madison: 3.2%

No. 2, Benton: 2.9%

No. 3, Van Buren: 2.2%

No. 4, Fulton: 1.9%

No. 5, Washington: 1.7%

No. 6, Marion: 1.7%

No. 7, Saline: 1.6%

No. 8, Faulkner: 1.6%

No. 9, Stone: 1.2%

No. 10, Craighead: 1.1%

Following are the largest-gaining counties from 2021 to 2022, listed with population gains:

No. 1, Benton: 8,526

No. 2, Washington: 4,362

No. 3, Saline: 2,038

No. 4, Faulkner: 2,020

No. 5, Craighead: 1,229

No. 6, Pulaski: 1,076

No. 7, Crawford: 652

No. 8, Sebastian: 634

No. 9, White: 598

No. 10, Madison: 550

According to the Census Bureau, the release of the metro area population estimates was postponed to May to allow for the transition from counties to planning regions in Connecticut.