NC Annual Economic Report: Population Change

<p>While North Carolina&rsquo;s 2018 year-over-year population growth rate was both higher than that of the U.S. and roughly in line with the state&rsquo;s recent annual growth rates, Mecklenburg and Wake Counties accounted for 33% of the state&rsquo;s net growth.</p>

Author: Steven Pennington

LEAD recently completed our North Carolina Annual Economic Report: A Year in Review, 2018. This report summarizes the most recently available data on a variety of topics relevant to the North Carolina economy, including labor market participation, industry employment, and GDP growth. This article highlights the population growth portion of the report.

Between 2017 and 2018, North Carolina’s population grew 1.1%, adding about 113,000 people.  The state grew faster than both the nation (0.6%) and the rest of the South (0.9%).[1] Since 2010, the state’s population growth has outperformed the nation, having grown 8.5% compared to the nation’s 5.8%.

Looking back over the past several decades, the state’s population growth has been consistently higher than national growth. North Carolina’s annual growth rate peaked at 2.4% prior to the Great Recession, followed by slowing growth rates, which leveled out at about 1% from 2011 to 2015. The state has experienced a slight uptick in growth over the past three years, diverging from the mostly flat and declining U.S. annual rates.

From 2017 to 2018, the combined populations of Mecklenburg and Wake Counties grew by over 37,000 people, accounting for about 33% of the state’s net population increase. The Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) accounted for 63% of the state’s total growth between 2017 and 2018. Nevertheless, many North Carolinians still live in rural areas. As of 2010, 34% of the state’s residents lived in rural Census tracts, giving North Carolina the second largest rural population in the country.[2]

The composition of the state’s population growth has been changing over time. In 2018, net migration accounted for more than three of every four new residents to the state, while natural growth declined to the lowest level since 1970. In contrast, net migration accounted for 48% of the nation’s new residents in 2018. The aging of the state’s population as well as lower fertility rates have contributed to this gradual decline in natural increase. In 2010, 13% of the state’s population was 65 or older. By 2018, the 65+ age group had increased to 16% of the total population, matching the U.S. proportion. This age group is projected to reach 19% of the state’s population by 2028.[3]

Take a look at the entire North Carolina Annual Economic Report for a review of other aspects of the North Carolina economy.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census.

[3] North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management.

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