Skip to navigationSkip to content
The sprawl of newly built housing is shown in San Marcos, California February 29, 2012. As the greatest real estate fire sale in the history of the United States rages on, the bulk buy is the hottest of the hot deals. In some of the most foreclosure-ravaged parts of the country, it's almost as if the housing market has become the new big box store and investors are wiping out the whole shelf. REUTERS/ Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT REAL ESTATE) - RTR2YNN3
Reuters/Mike Blake
The ‘burbs are back.
BURB LIFE

With the recession over, Americans are once again flocking to sun and suburbs

By Zach Wener-Fligner

From the second half of the 20th century through the early 2000s, American migration followed a distinctive pattern: people moved from urban centers to the suburbs, and from the northern US to Sun Belt states like California, Texas and Florida. During the pre-crisis years of the 2000s, the outer-suburban areas known as “exurbs” grew particularly quickly.

Then in 2007, the Great Recession hit, and sent everything to a screeching halt. Moving dropped to a historic low, and cities—not suburbs—were responsible for the bulk of population growth.

But the latest population data from the US Census shows that with the rekindling of the US economy, migration patterns are reverting to the post-war norm. A Brookings analysis of these numbers found that for the first time since 2010, growth rates of exurban counties are higher than those of urban counties. Moreover, all of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas—except for Denver, Colorado—are located in the Sun Belt (2005-6 growth rates are shown in comparison):

As William H. Frey charts at Brookings, cities like Atlanta and Phoenix—which were rapidly expanding until the recession stagnated their growth—are attracting migrators once again. Cities like Los Angeles and New York also seem to be returning to the pre-recession trends of net migration out of large cities.

This new data makes the case that the recession caused a hiccup, rather than a fundamental change, in how Americans move around the country.

Looking at only the fastest-growing counties supports that argument. 47% of the counties that grew at a rate of more than 5% between 2010 and 2014 are in Sun Belt states, and 55% of fast-growing counties with more than 50,000 people are in Sun Belt states. (Overall, the 13 Sun Belt states account for 29% of all counties and 36% of counties with more than 50,000 people.)

Here’s a list of the fastest-growing counties in the US—with the non-Sun Belt state of North Dakota showing a huge population bump from the shale oil boom:

And here are the fastest-growing counties with more than 50,000 people: