Archive for Thursday, March 19, 2009

Economic woes slow U.S. migration to Sun Belt region

March 19, 2009

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Census findings

• Metros registering the biggest numerical gains were Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Despite housing slowdowns in 2008, Phoenix and Atlanta ranked third and fourth in growth, respectively, followed by Los Angeles.

• The New Orleans area grew 2 percent to more than 1.1 million, still lagging its pre-Hurricane Katrina level of 1.3 million. St. Bernard Parish and neighboring Orleans Parish were the nation’s first and third fastest-growing counties.

• The Washington, D.C., region was among the top 10 numerical gainers, due partly to federal government jobs. Far-flung D.C. exurbs such as Virginia’s Loudoun and Prince William counties had flat or declining growth rates, victims of the housing bubble and a spike in gasoline prices.

— Strapped by the nation’s economic crisis, fewer Americans are migrating to Sun Belt hot spots in Nevada, Arizona and Florida, instead staying put for now in traditional big cities.

Census data released today highlight a U.S. population somewhat locked in place by the severe housing downturn and economic recession, even before the impact of rippling job layoffs after last September’s financial meltdown.

The population figures as of July 2008 show growth slowdowns in once-booming metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, due mostly to a rapid clip of mortgage foreclosures as well as frozen lines of credit that made it harder for out-of-staters to move in.

As a result, rust-belt metro areas such as Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh and Cleveland stanched some population losses, and Boston, Los Angeles and New York saw gains. Well-to-do exurbs around Washington D.C. saw growth slowdowns as people weary of costly commutes moved closer to federal jobs in the nation’s capital.

“It’s the bursting of a ‘migration bubble,’” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank who analyzed the numbers. “Places that popped up in migration growth in the superheated housing markets earlier in the decade are now just as quickly losing their steam.”

“It’s the constraint of not being able to buy or sell a home that is keeping people from moving long distances,” he said.

The latest population trends come as state and local governments are deciding where to pour billions of dollars in federal stimulus money to develop schools, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The nation’s decennial head count, used to apportion House seats and redraw congressional districts, also is fast approaching.

The census estimates used local records of births and deaths, Internal Revenue Service records of people moving within the United States, and census statistics on immigrants. The estimates were for both counties and metropolitan areas, which generally include cities and surrounding suburbs.

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