Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Census Bureau Releases 2009 Population Estimates

The 2010 decennial census data collection is underway, but in the meantime the US Census Bureau just released its 2009 annual population estimates for counties and metro areas. So let’s take a look, focusing on the Midwest, but also giving everyone else a look at some types of analysis that might be useful for them to apply to their own city.

Let’s Not Fool Ourselves on Urban Growth

There has been a lot written lately about the return to the city. I’ve noted myself how places like central Indianapolis have reversed decades of population declines. That’s exciting. And the New York Times, for example, just trumpeted how “smart growth is taking hold” in America.

But let’s not kid ourselves here. In my view this represents a possible inflection point, but it is way too early for the type of triumphalist rhetoric being bandied about by advocates.

Let’s take a look at the change in the regional population share in core counties in 2009 vs. 2008 for the Midwest cities I typically focus on.

City  Core County Share Change   2009 Core County Share   2008 Core County Share 
Columbus 0.02% 63.83% 63.81%
Pittsburgh 0.02% 51.74% 51.72%
Milwaukee (0.01%) 61.52% 61.53%
Minneapolis-St. Paul (0.02%) 50.84% 50.86%
Chicago (0.06%) 55.19% 55.24%
Louisville (0.07%) 57.33% 57.41%
Kansas City (0.11%) 34.13% 34.25%
Cincinnati (0.17%) 39.37% 39.54%
St. Louis (0.18%) 47.68% 47.86%
Indianapolis (0.23%) 51.09% 51.32%
Cleveland (0.26%) 61.00% 61.26%
Detroit (0.32%) 43.47% 44.06%

For St. Louis, I use St. Louis city + St. Louis County as the core. For Minneapolis-St. Paul, I used Hennepin+Ramsey as the core.

As you can see, only two regions managed to increase core county share of population, and these by a minuscule amount. Everyone else lost core county share. Keep in mind that even these “core” counties have many places with suburban characteristics. Now you might prefer a purely core city measure, and if so, be my guest. But don’t be surprised if the data gets even worse in many cases. Even in Chicago, which might have experienced the biggest urban core construction boom in America, the city lost population while Cook County gained it. Looking at the core city would make Chicago’s share loss worse.

I think this shows there is still some work to do, to put it mildly.

So why the difference versus the EPA study the NYT trumpets? Well, for one thing, the EPA study is worthless as a measure of urban health. They measure only new building permits, not people. This I think taps into a subtle suburban mindset in our outlook, that new housing units must represent net new inventory and net new people moving in, but in urban areas that’s not necessarily the case.

The sad fact is, many of our urban cores have experienced significant housing abandonment and demolition. So in addition to construction of net new units, there’s a countervailing force of reduction. For example, the greater downtown area of Indianapolis has been seeing lots of construction. But the regional center comprehensive plan noted that between 1990 and 2000, the net number of dwelling units actually decreased. “The actual number of housing units declined over the 10-year period as some housing became dilapidated or was demolished and as some projects were emptied to await renovation (the Census only counts habitable units).”

What’s more, as yuppies move in, and others move out, there is bound to be an effect on household sizes. Is it is really a good idea to price out larger immigrant families to the inner ring suburbs so that DINK’s can move in? How’s that for the environmental footprint of the region?

I’m glad we’ve got big increases in urban construction and even population increases in some neighborhoods, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves by trumpeting a “fundamental shift”, as the EPA does, when the demographics don’t back it up.

The New York Times article is also a disappointment. It fails to do any independent analysis of the data and only talks to people who are cheerleaders for the study, making it a sad piece of journalism.

Someone recently described me as an “apologist for sprawl”. I in no uncertain terms reject that label. I am a passionate urban advocate who wants to see our core cities thrive and prosper. I want more growth there. I live in a city in a walkable neighborhood and rarely drive.

But advocacy research of the type urbanists are quick to decry in others does a disservice to the cause. To change the trajectory of our cities and our built environment in America, we need to start with something called “reality”. I am optimistic that there’s a change in the air. But let’s not make claims about “fundamental shifts” that are simply not supported by any realistic look at the totality of the data.


The big news is that for the first time in forever, Pittsburgh, the incredible shrinking city, actually had positive net domestic in-migration. Here’s a chart:

Graphic via Null Space

The region still lost population, but that’s because of an odd case of natural decrease – more deaths than births. It looks like Pittsburgh might be really hitting its inflection point and starting to regenerate positive demographic growth.

Population Growth

The United States as a whole grew by 0.9% last year. Here is how my Midwest cities fared, ranked by last year’s percentage growth. The rank is the rank within the 52 metro areas with more than one million people.

  • Indianapolis – 1.3% (#19)
  • Columbus – 1.2% (#22)
  • Kansas City – 1.1% (#24)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul – 1.0% (#26)
  • United States Average – 0.9%
  • Chicago – 0.7% (#34)
  • Louisville – 0.7% (#34)
  • Cincinnati – 0.6% (#37)
  • Milwaukee – 0.6% (#37)
  • St. Louis – 0.4% (#44)
  • Pittsburgh – 0.0% (#49)
  • Cleveland – (0.1%) (#51)
  • Detroit – (0.5%) (#52)

This is pretty much the same as last year. I’ll again note that while Indianapolis is #1, and is growing 50% faster than the country as a whole, Columbus is coming on strong, increasing its growth rate from 1.1% to 1.2%. I would not be surprised if Columbus took over the top spot shortly.

Let’s take a look at this sorted by absolute population growth.

  • Chicago – 64,913 (#8)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul – 32,202 (#21)
  • Indianapolis – 22,862 (#27)
  • Columbus – 22,026 (#28)
  • Kansas City – 21,502 (#29)
  • Cincinnati – 13,253 (#35)
  • St. Louis – 10,302 (#40)
  • Milwaukee – 9,216 (#41)
  • Louisville – 8,838 (#42)
  • Pittsburgh – (434) (#50)
  • Cleveland – (2,765) (#51)
  • Detroit – (20,344) (#52)

Cities that added more people in 2009 than 2008: Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. Cleveland and Detroit also lost fewer people, as did Pittsburgh. Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Louisville, and St. Louis added fewer people than last year.

Net Migration

Again, I like to look at net domestic migration as a key figure of urban demographic health, so let’s take a look.

  • Indianapolis – 7,034
  • Columbus – 5,018
  • Kansas City – 3,929
  • Louisville – 2,122
  • Pittsburgh – 1,144 (WOW)
  • Cincinnati – (384)
  • Milwaukee – (2,336)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul – (2,503)
  • St. Louis – (4,532)
  • Cleveland – (10,191)
  • Chicago – (40,389)
  • Detroit – (45,488)

Keep in mind, these are total, not percentage figures. Chicago is huge so will naturally put up big numbers. Chicago is also a big immigrant port of entry, with significant international in-migration to offset this, and a structural exporter of people domestically as a result.

Indianapolis remains the migration champ of the Midwest. In terms of total net domestic in-migration, it ranked #18 in the nation. Over 72,500 have moved into Indianapolis metro in the past decade. That’s pretty amazing for a Midwest city and a huge source of demographic strength for the community.

Topics: Demographic Analysis
Cities: Pittsburgh

13 Responses to “Census Bureau Releases 2009 Population Estimates”

  1. Eric says:

    I have to think that over the last few years we’ve reached a bottom in the number manufacturing jobs in our cities. It used to be that Midwestern cities were full of manufacturing workers; now most of those jobs (and people) have finally been squeezed out.

    With that downward pressure relieved–there’s not too many manufacturing jobs left to eliminate–I expect the 2010-2020 demographic trends to look quite a bit different. We might stop simply treading water.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    2008-9 is a bad year to do analysis, because of the housing bust effects. In a lot of places, there was low or negative growth during the bubble years, followed by fast growth in the bust years as people stopped moving to the exurbs: for examples, take Boston, or any place in coastal California. And in many others, the trend was the opposite – fast growth during the bubble, and slower growth through the bust: for examples, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley exurbs of the Bay Area, Phoenix, and anywhere in Florida.

  3. ma54 says:

    The city of Denver was #4 for counties in the U.S., outstripping the growth in its suburbs, adding a net gain of 10,620 people in addition to an overall 6,776 increase in births minus deaths. The census estimates showed that the city and county of Denver grew by 2.9 percent between July 2008 and July 2009 and now is home to 610,345 people.

    Read more:

    Read more:

  4. the urban politician says:

    Aaron, I grow weary of you “championing” data in which Indianapolis happens to succeed. There is more to a region’s health than raw population numbers.

    You seem to put too much importance on this, naturally, I believe, because your home town appears to be doing well in this category.

    I think there is far, far more to a metro than that. I think about personal things that matter like shopping, variety of goods that I can purchase (for example where can I find the best selection of pre-owned Acuras or Audis?), national & international airport connections, ethnic diversity (quite possibly the most important), and perceptions of one’s city. Reality is, the great exporters of people (NY, LA, Chicago) continue to remain far superior in all of these categories despite the fact that they don’t look so great on paper (especially Chicago, whose population remains stuck in a rut). No amount of churning the data is going to change that.

  5. AmericanDirt says:

    It would require something less complicated than an algorithm to show how much the county size influences your county share equations. It’s undeniable that metro Columbus can boast a high core county share, but–as you are no doubt aware–Ohio counties are, on average, significantly larger than those in Indiana or Kentucky. Franklin County OH is almost 150 square miles larger than Marion County IN. Also, if I recall correctly, Ramsey County is unusually small among Minnesota Counties. Perhaps the best indicator would be core county population density as a ratio to metro density?

  6. AmericanDirt says:

    It should require something less complicated than an algorithm to show how much the county size influences your county share equations. It’s undeniable that metro Columbus can boast a high core county share, but–as you are no doubt aware–Ohio counties are, on average, significantly larger than those in Indiana or Kentucky. Franklin County OH is almost 150 square miles larger than Marion County IN. Also, if I recall correctly, Ramsey County is unusually small among Minnesota Counties. Perhaps the best indicator would be core county population density as a ratio to metro density?

  7. Alon, what do you think the best years to do analysis are? Also, what do you think are the relevant geographies to compare for “core” and “total”?

  8. TUP, Indianapolis is legitimately doing well on a variety of metrics: population growth, migration, job growth, GDP per capita, unemployment rate, etc.

    Having said that, I believe I’ve posted a large number of articles over the past three years heavily critical of Indianapolis and/or questioning things there. I might refer you to:

    And there are more on the way, I can assure you.

  9. Mike says:

    This is a “cup half empty vs. cup half fill” post. By focusing on the core county’s “share”, this post creates confusion.

    If a city is growing but its suburbs are growing faster, it is still growing. But its share is declining. I still think that this is good news for the city, especially given that many central cities have been declining for decades.

    Moreover, “core county” is not as good a measure, in my opinion, as “core city” since “core county” often includes a lot of very suburban places. In sum metros, focusing on the county overstates the city’s strength (i.e. where the city is declining but its inner suburbs are still gaining). In others, it understates the city’s strength (i.e. places with a strong core but declining inner suburbs).

  10. Mark Arsenal says:

    I think using Counties is a little disingenuous. Pittsburgh, for example, continues to lose population to the county, which is a de-urbanizing feature, despite the growth in share of Allegheny county’s population as % of region.

    Especially in the case of transit-friendly and geographically compact cities, we should instead look at population trends X-miles from the geographic centre of the CBD.

    Research is too obsessed with arbitrary political boundaries, as you allude to above. Let’s get real.

  11. Mark, what geography would you suggest using?

  12. Alon Levy says:

    I didn’t see your questions to me until now – sorry. I think the best period ending in 2009 for analysis is 2003-09 (housing bubble and bust), or 2001-09 (bottom of business cycle to bottom of business cycle). It makes sense to break down the 2003-9 period into boom and bust, but looking at each separately is useful mainly for figuring out how the bubble impacted your region, not what your region’s overall demographic situation is.

    I honestly don’t know whether you can come up with a useful global definition for what counts as urban core and what counts as suburbs. But within each urban area, you can look at changes in perceived density, i.e. the density of the population-weighted mean census tract. This definition is capable of resolving conflicts between opposing trends: for example, if city center and the suburbs are both growing at the expense of the outer urban neighborhoods, looking at perceived density will tell you whether the overall trend is toward suburbanization or reurbanization.

    However, there is no hope for using perceived density to settle absolute questions, as opposed to than questions about relative changes over time, because one region’s dense neighborhood is another region’s exurb. The mean census tract in Greater New York is about as dense as the densest census tract in Houston.

  13. Thanks, Alon. The boundary problem is a thorny one, no doubt.

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