(October 2002) As of July 1, 2001, the U.S. population numbered 284.8 million people, up by nearly 3.4 million (1.2 percent) from the total in the 2000 Census. The U.S. Census Bureau reported this increase in its first set of post-2000 estimates for states and counties. The estimates show the continuation of established patterns of growth and decline, along with some unusual results.

Continued Growth in South, West, Exurbs

One year into the new century, Nevada remained the nation’s fastest growing state. The Silver State’s population grew 5.4 percent between 2000 and 2001, to 2.1 million. Arizona and Colorado, the second and third fastest growing states in the 1990s, have maintained their positions too, growing 3.4 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. Four other states — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Idaho — grew at least 2 percent between 2000 and 2001.

The state totals reflect a continuation of a 40-year trend: the southward and westward shift in the U.S. population. Of the 18 states that grew faster than the national average, only one — New Hampshire — was outside the South and West.

On the local level, Douglas County, Colo., continued to be the nation’s fastest growing county in the post-Census 2000 era. The outer suburban or “exurban” county outside Denver, which had nearly tripled its population during the 1990s, grew 13.6 percent to nearly 200,000 in 2001. Eight other counties grew at least 10 percent between 2000 and 2001, all of them in the South. Indeed, of the 28 fastest-growing counties in 2000-2001, just four — all in the Midwest — were outside the South and West.

Most of the nation’s rapid-growth counties were exurbs in expanding metropolitan areas. Besides Douglas County (Denver), the list includes Loudoun County, Va. (Washington, D.C.); Rockwall, Collin, and Williamson counties in Texas (the former two in metro Dallas, the latter outside Austin); and Forsyth, Henry, Paulding, and Newton counties in Georgia (Atlanta). Several nonmetropolitan counties adjacent to metropolitan areas also experienced rapid growth. For example, Spencer County, Ky. (bordering the Louisville metro area), and Rains County, Texas (outside Dallas), grew 10.8 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2001.

Decline in Plains, Rural Areas

Four states and the District of Columbia lost population between 2000 and 2001. Each of the states—North Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, and Louisiana — had faster rates of decline than the District, which lost barely 200 people. North Dakota, the slowest growing of the 50 states during the 1990s, lost 1.2 percent of its populace in the year following Census 2000.

Among local areas, King County, Texas, became the fastest-shrinking county between 2000 and 2001. Numerically, the county’s population fell from 356 to 319 — a decline of 37 people. However, that translated to a rate of 10.4 percent, two percentage points worse than Kalawao County, Hawaii, which had the next fastest rate of decline — 8.2 percent, from 147 to 135.

The 2001 estimates produced plenty of demographic “have-nots”; nearly half (1,406) of the 3,141 counties and county equivalents lost population — an unusually high number. By contrast, just 686 counties lost population during the 1990s, and about 1,000 lost population in the last three single-year periods of the decade. Although every part of the country was represented, clusters of population “losers” were found in the Great Plains, parts of the lower Mississippi Delta, and portions of northern and central Appalachia. Most of the counties that lost population during the 1990s were in these regions.

The Great Plains, in particular, had most of the counties with the fastest rates of decline. Of the 280 counties with population losses of at least 2 percent in the year following Census 2000, 157 were in the Plains states (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas).

Another demographic trend that continued with the 2001 estimates was the depopulation of rural counties. Rural, sparsely populated areas of less than 10,000 people made up 218 of the 280 counties losing 2 percent or more of their populations between 2000 and 2001. Nearly half (134) had populations below 5,000. Of the 25 counties with the highest percentage losses between 2000 and 2001, only Starke County in northwestern Indiana (population 22,000 in 2001) had more than 10,000 people.


All estimates reflect the assumptions and methods used to produce them. The 2001 series carries one special caveat for data users, particularly concerning local areas.

When it conducted an internal review of the estimates, the Census Bureau found that many counties had gross migration (the sum of in- and out-migration) figures significantly higher than in previous years, producing markedly different net migration rates. These rates in turn yielded unusual results. For example, Arlington County, Va. (just outside Washington, D.C.) found itself among the areas showing population declines between 2000 and 2001 — a phenomenon contested by area demographers.

The Census Bureau hypothesizes that the unusually high number of address changes between 2000 and 2001 reflects new procedures at the Internal Revenue Service, whose one-time federal tax rebate program may have prompted more people to submit address changes. (However, the Bureau does not rule out the possibility that the differences represent actual migration patterns.)

Kelvin Pollard is research demographer at the Population Reference Bureau.

For More Information

The Census Bureau’s “Technical Statement for State and County Population Estimates” is available online at www.census.gov.