by guest contributor Peter Fugiel, Ph.D.

There have always been big states and small states among the United States It is just that in the last 30 years, there has been a new category of states that are becoming so big, they are as big as major countries. These mega-states are among the country’s handful of states with ten million or more residents.

Even though not all ten super-states are growing rapidly, they are each so big, they are in a class of their very own. Even though the U.S. has always had a big gap between small and large state population, the sheer numerical differences between 30 million and under one million residents threaten the democratic spirit of representative government.

Ranked #1 – California

By the year 2030, the U.S. Census projects that the state of California will have 46 million citizens. That is the size of Spain. In 20 years, one out of every eight Americans will be a Californian.

Just looking at its stats, the state seems to have it all. It has 53 house seats – as many as the number held by 20 other states combined. It has four cities ranked on the country’s top 20 list, and 66 cities with a population larger than 100,000. One of out five U.S. cities of that large a size is located in California.

Where the California profile strays from all positives is its fiscal structure. While California continues to have an enviable system of local governments, especially for localities that can expand their boundaries, its finance system is experiencing severe fiscal stress. Government by plebiscite has converted California’s profoundly decentralized public sector into one that is now strangely centralized as well. As a result, the California housing industry has had to bear the cost of financing local infrastructure by putting those costs into the price of a home. Local taxation has been severely constrained for a generation now.

Over time, as housing in the state grew more expensive, federal agencies stepped in to finance California housing at its artificially high price levels. And now that the federally-inspired housing bubble has burst, California’s housing market is severely compromised. The state’s growth machine has slowed. Between 2000 and 2010, two million people left California for other states. While continuing immigration gains offset the out-migration, the state did not grow as fast as did second-ranked Texas.

In 20 years, one out of every eight Americans will be a Californian.

California’s gain of three million residents for the past decade was entirely attributable to a spectacular amount of natural increase. This natural increase will likely continue for at least the next generation, as the state’s large immigrant populations continue to have larger-than-average size families.

Ranked #2 – Texas

Unlike California, Texas attracted nearly 800,000 Americans from other states in the past decade. That number, when added to a million immigrants and a two million natural growth increase, put the state’s population over 25 million. By the year 2030, it is projected that Texas will add another ten million residents. Once again, natural increase will be the driving force and that will make Texas – only our second biggest state – as large as all of Canada.

Like California, Texas has a strong system of local governments, where the municipal form, not the county form, is in place. There are 28 cities in Texas that have populations in excess of 100,000. In addition, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio are all major urban centers. Since the Texas fiscal structure has tended to keep local growth needs out of the state budget, population growth all through the state has been robust.

A further bonus has been the fact that housing costs never entered the protracted bubble phase that has cost the national economy so much growth in the past five years.

Ranked #3 – Florida

Thirty years ago, New York had five million more residents than did Florida. In the next several years, Florida will overtake New York as it heads for the 20 million mark. As in past decades, Florida continues to experience retirement and in-migration increases.

Florida also has of one the most diverse immigration profiles, having added a million more residents since 2000. Compared with California and Texas, however, the natural rate of increase is less important to Florida’s growth. As a result, the cost of local education will be less of a fiscal burden than in most of the other super-states.

While Jacksonville is a major U.S. city, partly due to its huge physical size, the population city of Miami is less than 400,000 people. The growth in south Florida is concentrated in county areas, outside of municipal boundaries. Florida’s county-based local system of government resembles that of other southern states, in which fixed-boundary local governments prevail over municipalities, where annexation is possible.

As a result, Florida’s state-centered fiscal structure is distinctly different from that of decentralized Texas.

Ranked #4 – New York

New York has been one of the U.S. mega-states for many years. New York City and its suburbs have come to dominate the state’s governmental system, like few other metro areas do. There are few other large cities in New York beyond its wealthy three-state metropolis. As in previous decades, New York’s immigration gains have been offset by big out-migration numbers. In this decade alone, the state lost one and half million residents to other states. Even though a million immigrants moved to New York, that gain was not nearly enough to cause the state to do much more than to stay steady with its 19 million residents.

Ranked #5 – Illinois

As the Chicago metro has sprawled out into eight counties, it has come to dominate state politics in a way unknown in the past. Like New York, Illinois experienced a huge amount of out-migration, in excess of 850,000 residents. Less robust immigration during the decade could not offset the move-out losses. However, like other mature mega-states, Illinois continues to report very big natural population increases. With many seniors leaving the state, and with immigrant populations starting new families, natural increase in Illinois was very impressive, at approximately 850,000. It is easy to see why education remains a major public sector expense in the state, at a time when the state budget has been stressed by the rapid growth of immigrant populations as well.

Ranked #6 – Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was unique among the seasoned states because it enjoyed all positives related to its growth. It gained from immigration, but more importantly, it did not experience a net loss due to out-migration. So it was due mostly to natural increase, not immigration, which caused the state to experience an impressive half million population gain.

Pennsylvania’s proximity to the high density, very expensive New York/Boston region has brought new jobs. The Commonwealth’s incredibly complex system of local governments, which includes school districts with local income taxes, boosts the state’s ability to keep many public sector decisions out of Harrisburg. For its size, Pennsylvania is a very decentralized state.

Ranked #7 – Ohio

Ohio is the last of the mega-states that had a 2010 population above ten million. Like its industrial heartland neighbor, Michigan, the state experienced a large out-migration that was not offset by immigration. As a result, all of Ohio’s slight population increase for the decade was attributable to a substantial amount of natural increase. The three large metro areas in the state tend to be only second-tier national service centers. And the smaller size of Ohio’s urban centers probably costs the state a fair amount of white collar and regional service sector employment.

Clearly, the trend among the states is for a handful of very big states to continue to outpace the smaller states in taking the lion’s share of the country’s big population increases.

Ranked #8 – Michigan

Michigan is one of only two states that lost population in the decade, despite having a very large immigration increase. Over 700,000 residents left the state in the past decade, roughly comparable to the number of Americans who moved to North Carolina. Still the state’s overall population declined by only 50,000 due entirely to the state’s natural increase of over 400,000. Such large natural increase kept the state close to the ten million mega-state mark. For all its well-documented negatives, it has to be remembered, Michigan still has to educate huge numbers of students, many of whom have been leaving for other states after they have been awarded their state university degrees.

Ranked #9 – Georgia

Georgia and neighboring North Carolina will both join the “ten million club” in the next decade. Georgia has been a growth phenomenon, adding three million residents in twenty years.  Its growth comes from impressive in-migration, strong immigration, and very big natural increase. The City of Atlanta, although not a very big city by itself, is the center of the spectacular 28-county north Georgia metro region. As with other urbanizing southern states, new growth occurs as much in urbanizing counties, as it does in incorporated cities.

Ranked #10 – North Carolina

North Carolina ranks third, right behind Texas, for the number of Americans who have moved to the state. It has added nearly three million citizens in the past 20 years. It is projected to add another two million residents by the year 2030. It is possible the state will wind up being ranked sixth by that time, right behind slow-growing Illinois. While Charlotte is a major American city, the other cities in North Carolina tend to be smaller, with urbanized counties taking a large portion of new growth.

Ten Mega-States Have Majority of U.S. Population


2010 Population


State Share of U.S. 2000-2010 Growth

State Share of U.S. 2010 Population









New York




























North Carolina








Big state-small state dichotomy to have profound effect on U.S. demographics

Combined, these ten super-states have a hundred and fifty million residents, more than half of the U.S. population. These states also garnered more than half of the all the U.S. population growth in the past decade. Only four other states – New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Arizona – have any hope of attaining mega-state status in this century. That leaves the remaining 36 states, which are projected to contain only one-third of the U.S. projected population of 73 million in 2030.

Clearly, the trend among the states is for a handful of very big states to continue to outpace the smaller states in taking the lion’s share of the country’s big population increases. This big state-small state dichotomy is the singular demographic fact of life in the 21st century. One cannot help but realize that the growing gap between big and small states will have profound implications for the U.S. political and legal systems in the 21st century. As the U.S. budget trend is reversed to rely more upon taxes rather than debt, the fairness of fiscal federalism among the states will became a clear issue. No state can assume that the usually big and wealthy states do not notice how their federal taxes are apportioned among the fifty states.

About the Author:

Peter Fugiel, Ph.D., a housing and public finance consultant in Chicago, is a frequent contributor to His firm, PMN Community Services, provides research services to Chicago-area communities based on platform that combines real estate market analysis with municipal bond research.