Western states grow faster, Census Bureau estimates

WASHINGTON -- 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.

Missouri's population grew 0.6 percent to 5,629,707. Illinois population rose 0.5 percent to 12,482,301.

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.

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.

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.