Western states among fastest-growing in past year, Census Bureau says

Thursday, December 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nevada, Arizona and Colorado top the list of the country's fastest-growing states the past year, Census Bureau estimates show. States in the Midwest and along the East Coast lagged behind the rest of the nation.

North Dakota and West Virginia had the steepest declines, as slower economies continued to chase residents out of state while failing to attract enough newcomers to take their place.

The opposite occurred in Sun Belt states like Nevada, according to the bureau's first updated population estimates since the April 1, 2000 census. Lured by the warm climate and tourism industry, Nevada's population climbed 5.4 percent by July 1, 2001 to 2.1 million, according to the new estimates being released Friday.

``I hesitate to say when growth is going to stop. There's been a long westward movement in this country,'' said John Haaga, a demographer with the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.

``More recently, it stopped being movement to the West Coast and filled in'' other Western states, he said.

Overall, the U.S. population grew 1.2 percent from 281.4 million in April 2000 to 284.8 million in July 2001.

Weather and more vibrant economies have drawn more people to Southern and Western states than other regions of the country for decades. Cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas and Denver act as a hub for growth spilling out into new, sprawling suburbs. A move to a bigger house or more land in the suburbs typically also means a longer commute for people working in big cities.

That suburban growth marked the rise in New Hampshire's population the past year, up nearly 2 percent to 1.3 million _ the only state among the 10 fastest-growing located outside the South or West.

Much of that increase in New Hampshire came along the state's roughly 17 mile-long coastline between Massachusetts and Maine, an area that more Boston workers are willing to commute from, said Tyler Young, an assistant planner for the New Hampshire Office of Planning.

The important thing, though, is that those towns are not as densely packed as the New York City suburbs, said Barry Russo, of Rye, N.H. He moved from Ridgewood, N.J., outside New York, three years ago and wants to help government planners in his new hometown.

``It's definitely a more rural feel. It's a seacoast area, so development could overwhelm it,'' said Russo. ``If I could prevent the 'Jerseyfication' of it, I'd like to be aware of it.''

Most of the trends in the latest report mirrored trends between 1990 and 2000, Haaga said.

For instance, North Dakota saw the biggest population drop the past year_ down 1.2 percent to 634,448. No state lost population between 1990 and 2000, but North Dakota did have the smallest increase _ up by less than 1 percent.

West Virginia, Iowa and Louisiana were the only other states to decline the past year _ all by less than 1 percent. Pennsylvania, New York, Nebraska and Ohio all had slight increases.

Many of these states have faced the challenge of attracting new residents _ and keeping their own younger residents from leaving _ as farming communities continue to suffer financially, said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Walthill-Neb. based Center for Rural Affairs.

``The real bent of these communities are the entrepreneurial background of these people,'' he said. ``We aren't doing a lot right now to support that.''

The bureau typically updates post-census estimates each year. Among other purposes, the data are used to help allocate federal funds between the states.

Other highlights:

_California remained the most populous state, with 34.5 million. It was followed by Texas and New York.

_After North Dakota, New York had the steepest declines in net domestic migration. Unlike North Dakota, New York still gained population overall because of higher international immigration.