ST. GEORGE – Utah is leading the nation as the fastest growing state, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week. The report, which covers July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016, shows Utah leading a cluster of Western states in growth while the rest of the country is relatively sluggish by comparison.
Released Tuesday, the report shows Utah with a population increase of 2 percent. Utah is followed closely by Nevada with a 1.9 percent increase. Utah also broke the 3 million population mark during the period the report covers.
Additional states that saw growth that ranged between 1.8 percent and 1.5 percent include Idaho, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, District of Columbia and Texas.
“States in the South and West continued to lead in population growth,” said Ben Bolender, chief of the U.S. Census’ Population Estimates Branch. “In 2016, 37.9 percent of the nation’s population lived in the South and 23.7 percent lived in the West.”
The U.S. population, meanwhile, posted one of its lowest growth rates since the late 1930s, shortly after the Great Depression, said Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. That’s largely because baby-boomer generation population declines haven’t been fully replaced by new births or immigration.
The United States’ overall population grew by 0.7 percent. The nation’s population is estimated to be 323 million.
Several Western states are bucking that trend as people are attracted by recovering economies and affordable housing, he said.
“As things start to inch up, people are finding good home values in central California, and that’s spilling out into other mountain West states,” Frey said, though in most places the growth doesn’t yet match pre-recession levels.
In Utah, the growth was split nearly evenly between new births and in-migration of people attracted by the strong tech and financial industries, Pam Perlich with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, told The Associated Press.
Utah’s population grew by 60,000 between 2015 and 2016, according to the Census data.
Other states that have been recent growth powerhouses also flagged this year. North Dakota, for example, led the country for the past four years during an oil boom that started around 2004, but its growth slowed amid 2016’s weak crude prices.
Eight states had population losses this year, including three — Pennsylvania, New York and Wyoming — that posted gains last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Illinois had the biggest drop, losing more than 37,000 people.
According to a recent study from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute regarding the state’s growth, Utah’s Washington County growth rate has risen to 3.7 percent over the original projections of 2.7 percent.
The county’s population went from 138,579 in 2010 to over 160,359 in 2016. Overall, it has gained 21,780 new residents over the last five years.
Iron County’s population grew from 41,193 to 49,406, adding 3,243 residents during that time. It also experienced a growth rate of 2.7 percent in the last year.
Growth does not come without jobs to support it, however.
The state has added 42,100 jobs between November 2015 and November 2016, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The state’s current level of registered employees stands at 1.4 million
“Utah experienced yet another month of strong employment growth with the creation of more than 40,000 jobs over the last year,” said Carrie Mayne, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services. “The unemployment rate dropped for the fifth consecutive month, signifying a solid trend in absorbing job seekers into the state workforce.”
The unemployment rate for the state is currently estimated at 3.1 percent, with approximately 46,600 Utahns unemployed and actively seeking work.
While nine of the 10 private sector industry groups measured in the establishment survey posted net job increases in November as compared to last year, the Natural Resources and Mining industry decreased by 1,100 positions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Utah ranks third in the nation for total job growth in November at 3 percent behind Florida and Washington at 3.2 percent and 3.1 percent respectively. In private job sector growth, however, Utah tied with Florida for first place at 3.5 percent growth.
In Washington County, around 3,000 jobs have been added since November 2015, making for a growth rate of about 7 percent, said Lecia Langston, an economist with the Department of Workforce Services. Wages also increased around 4.5 percent, she said.
Unemployment in Washington County is currently at 3.2 percent, the lowest it has been since the end of the recession, Langston said.
“It’s pretty indicative of a tight labor market,” she said.
Statewide, education and health services have seen the most gains with 9,200 jobs added over the last year. They are followed by financial activities-related jobs at 7,600 and professional and business services with 7,500 new jobs added.
The fastest employment growth has occurred in areas of financial activities at 9.3 percent, education and health services at 4.9 percent and construction at 4.5 percent.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.
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