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.
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: