A State of Growth
From 1990 until 2005, North Carolina grew by 2,053,429 people -- a growth rate of 31 percent. This rate of growth is faster than the U.S. growth rate of 19 percent and faster than all but eight other states. North Carolina will continue to grow robustly.
According to the United States Census Bureau, North Carolina is projected to move from the 11th-largest state to the seventh-largest by 2030. The Census Bureau estimates that in 2005 North Carolina was home to 8,682,066 people. By 2030, that number is projected to exceed 12 million. This means that in the next 25 years the state is projected to grow by more people than it did during the 50-year period between 1940 and 1990.
By 2020, 12 North Carolina counties will be home to more than 200,000 people, up from seven such counties in 2000. Through much of its history, North Carolina has been a rural state. The North Carolina Rural Economic Development defines rural counties as those with a population of fewer than 200 people per square mile as of 1990.
Using this definition as a base, we define "non-rural" counties as those with greater than 200 people per square mile. Based on the population projections, in 15 years, 28 of North Carolina's counties will be "non-rural," up from 21 in 2000.
The Census Bureau makes projections based on trends. Events can intervene. It is possible to see how the predictions are holding up. We do that by comparing the predictions made following the 2000 census and comparing them to the current estimated population released by the Census Bureau in 2005.
The 2005 North Carolina estimated population is 8,683,000, an increase of 633,000 from 2000. At this rate, the 2020 population would be 10,585,000 or only about 100,000 fewer people than the official 2020 projection.
In the past 15 years, the Piedmont region has grown by 1,397,413 people to a total of 5,112,786 -- a 38 percent growth rate. During that same period, North Carolina's state growth rate was 31 percent, while the national growth rate was 19 percent. Expectedly, much of this growth is in the largest urban areas. Since 1990, Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Durham counties have grown by 831,344 people -- a 48 percent rate of growth.
In the next 15 years, growth in the Piedmont is projected to continue at a high, but slightly slower rate. As a whole, the region will grow by 1,448,426 people to a total of 6,561,212. This represents a 28 percent growth rate and is projected to account for 68 percent percent of the state's overall growth.
Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Durham are projected to grow by 898,265 people. By 2020, these five counties will represent 32 percent of the state's total population and 44 percent of the state's total growth.
This is consistent with the previous 15-year period when the five largest counties also represented 30 percent of the total population and 40 percent of the state's total growth. Within the "big five," growth in Wake and Mecklenburg is projected to be most substantial, representing 21 percent of North Carolina's total population and 34 percent of the state's total growth.
The East and the West have grown, though not as strongly as the Piedmont. As regions, the eastern and the western parts of the state have seen significant growth in the past 15 years. Since 1990, these regions have grown respectively at rates of 23 percent and 21 percent.
During that time, eastern N.C. grew to 2,531,456 residents -- a gain of 474,178, while the West increased to 1,037,824 residents -- a gain of 181,838. The rate of growth in the mountains and in the East has still been faster than the national average for rate of growth (19 percent) and faster than that of all of the Southern states except Georgia, Florida and Texas.
Despite the overall growth in the region, the growth has not been uniform, nor has it been universal. Down East, six counties -- Brunswick, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, New Hanover and Pitt -- made up 53 percent of the growth since 1990. In the mountains, five counties -- Burke, Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood and Macon -- accounted for 56 percent of the growth during that time. In the last five years, 12 mountain and eastern counties have experienced a population loss.
The next 15 years' growth in the East and West is predicted to continue, though at a slower rate. Eastern N. C. is projected to gain 437,319 people by 2020 -- totaling 2,968,775 people, while the West is predicted to grow by 141,893 people -- to 1,179,717.
This represents a slight drop in each region's rate of growth: 14 percent in the mountains and 17 percent down East. After the next 15 years, the East will constitute 28 percent of the state's total population and 22 percent of North Carolina's total growth. The West is projected to represent 11 percent of the state's total population and 7 percent of the total growth.
Changing population patterns will affect congressional apportionment. Before 2030, North Carolina is projected to gain at least one additional seat in Congress. Under the current projections, a North Carolina congressperson will represent approximately 750,000 people, up from 667,000 today.
Under the General Assembly's 2003 redistricting plan, the "ideal" N.C. House district was composed of 67,078 people. Under the current projections, after 2010 the ideal district will have 77,882 people, and after 2020 the ideal district will have 89,244 people.
Under the 2003 redistricting plan, the "ideal" N.C. Senate district was composed of 160,986 people. Under the current projections, after 2010 the ideal district will have 186,916 people, and after 2020 the ideal district will have 214,186 people.
A recent study prepared by Arthur Nelson of the Brookings Institution evaluates the effect census-based population growth projections could have on construction.
These projections suggest that North Carolina will require an additional 2,234,193 residential units by 2030. The Charlotte area is estimated to need 491,000, with Raleigh-Durham needing an additional 435,000 units.
Similarly, the Nelson report concludes that North Carolina will need an additional 2,982,123 square feet of commercial and institutional space by 2030, a 105. 8 percent increase. Of this additional space, the Charlotte metro area is estimated to require 729,852 square feetfeet and Raleigh-Durham is estimated to require 639,280 square feet.
Crossroads and ports have defined human settlement from the beginning of civilization. Today, in North Carolina as much as anywhere in the country, people are moving to where there are roads. As Robert Lang from the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech said, "Little cities have been built in the place of peanut stands in the Carolinas. "
North Carolina has a reputation as the "good roads state" and has more miles of state-maintained highways that any state except Texas. Traditionally, North Carolina built roads to sustain agriculture and local manufacturing. In today's North Carolina, roads have become more and more about connecting people from rural and suburban communities to their jobs.
At the 2000 Census, 5,195,811 people, or 65 percent of North Carolina's total population, lived within 10 miles of an Interstate highway. In 36 counties, at least 40 percent of the population commutes out-of-county for work. In 21 counties, more than 50 percent of the population commutes.
From 1990 to 2000, the number of registered vehicles increased by one million. The number of licensed drivers increased by 1.3 million. The number of vehicle miles of travel increased by 18 billion. The number of gasoline gallons consumed increased by more than 1 billion.
The Rise of the Exurbs
An increase in the number of North Carolinians who commute to work illuminates an increase in the number of residents living in the counties surrounding the state's historically urban areas. Exurbs, suburbs, boomburbs, call them what you will, but the last 15 years have seen a significant rise in these outlying counties, and the next 15 years are projected to see even more growth.
According to Tom Daniels, a city and regional planning professor at Pennsylvania University, exurban counties share four characteristics:
-- They are 10-50 miles from an urban center.
-- They are home to many residents with a commute time of 25 minutes each way to work.
-- Their communities have a mix of long-term and newer residents.
-- Agriculture is an active but declining industry.
When applying this definition to North Carolina, we have considered counties exurban if more than 30 percent of the county population commutes into one of the state's urban areas: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, Wilmington, or Asheville.
Over the past 15 years, these counties have become home to 1,771,400 residents. This constitutes an increase of 498,948 people and a 39 percent rate of growth. This rate was higher than the state's growth rate of 31 percent and just below the 48 percent growth rate of the state's five largest counties.
In the next 15 years, the exurban counties are projected to grow collectively by 511,778 people to a total of 2,283,178 residents-a 29 percent rate of growth.
North Carolina's population is both growing and aging. By 2030, the share of the state's total over-45 population will increase. The share of citizens 25-44 will decrease, and the percentage people less than 24 years old will remain approximately the same.
In 2000, 12 percent (982,445) of North Carolina's roughly 8 million people were 65 and over. By 2030, this population is projected to be 18 percent of the population (2,221,470), a 30-year increase of 1.2 million people.
The growth in the proportion of older North Carolinians means that there must be corresponding decrease in other age groups. The proportion of residents aged 25-44 is predicted to decrease from 31 percent of the total population down to 27 percent of the total population. In real numbers the 25-44 age group still represents the largest section of the state's population and is still projected to grow.
The percentages of the population coming from the 18-24, 6-17, and 0-5 age ranges are not projected to change from 2000-2030.
The percentages are projected to remain constant at 10 percent, 17 percent, and 8 percent respectively.
To put these numbers in perspective, in 2030 today's first-grader will be 30 years old. Today's college freshman will be 42 years old, and a college graduate will be 46 years old. Thus, the state is educating people today who will form much of the prime working age group 25 years from now.
Carolina Context is a publication of the Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill. Ferrel Guillory is director of the program, and Andrew Holton is assistant director for research.
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