by guest contributor, Peter Fugiel, Ph.D.

Perhaps the single most important characteristic of the U.S. population in the 21st century is its rapid growth, expected to continue for at least the next two decades. As the trend continues, the most impressive story is in the numeric increase rather than the percentage rate of growth.

The projections and estimates used in this article are based on data released by the Division of Population of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, specifically in its Projection of the U.S. Population and its Components and its State-by-State Projection by  Age Composition in the year 2030.

Between 2000 and 2030, the U.S. Census projects that the country will add an estimated 80 million new residents – an increase equal to the size of Germany – the 16th largest country in the world!

By the year 2030, 28 million Baby Boomers, persons born between 1945 and 1964, will be eligible to retire. These older adults are expected to be replaced by an increase of at least 45 million working age adults. A generation ago, opinion had it that the nation would not be able to sustain the Social Security system because of all the retirees. Now the question is: how do we find work for so many new working adults?

The degree to which the various states will be affected by immigration and the retirement of the Baby Boom will vary significantly. Many states will begin to lose population, as school enrollments drop, and as the number of working adults is not as large as the retiring Baby Boom cohort. This pattern will be seen in the non-urban Midwest and on the Plains, as well as in many parts of the Northeast.

On the other hand, in the metro areas of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, retirees will be replaced by immigrants. In a band of metro markets that extends from Boston to Minneapolis, local populations will stay mostly stable or increase slightly. This will be due to a combination of higher birth rates and robust immigration. In states like New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois, population stability will be predicated on stable school enrollments and the continuing arrival of working-age immigrants.

And so, while a third of the states will begin to ’age in place,’ and another third will hold their own due to immigration and adequate birth rates, it will be the last third that sees strong growth. This rapid growth will be due to Americans relocating from one state to another, much higher local birth rates, and very high foreign (legal) immigration.

This article highlights ten states with the best prospects for substantial population growth in the coming 20 years. While the retirement of the Baby Boom generation will be felt in most of the states, the relocation of American citizens and foreign immigration will be highly skewed towards fewer than 15 states. As a result, there will be vast differences among the states in growth rates all through the coming century.

Arizona:  The continuing arrival of affluent retirees from other states will set the stage for additional rapid growth in the state. Twenty years ago, the state was ranked 24th in population, with fewer than four million residents. By 2030, it is projected to grow to ten million people, which will likely place Arizona among the top ten states. It is seldom that any state goes from being ranked in the middle of the fifty states, to the top-ten list. In the next two decades, there will be tremendous number of jobs created to serve this affluent segment of the nation’s retirement population. Arizona is one place where those types of jobs will be found in abundance.

But there will be more going on in the state as well. The combination of its being east of the high-cost Los Angeles megalopolis, and its location on the Mexican border, will give the state its unique formula for rapid growth. Most importantly, in the next two decades, Arizona will shed its ’seniors only’ image, as fast immigration, and a higher birth rate, will make the state a more demographically balanced one.  By 2030, the number of residents aged 65 or older is projected to be the same number as residents aged 25 or under.  That is a tremendous turnaround in one only generation.

California: This is still the American mega-state, bar none. Everything about California’s future growth statistics is distinctive. And even though two million people moved out of the state in the past decade, the state still grew by three and a half million people. In the next 20 years, every age group in the state is projected to grow by at least 10%. As the number of seniors increases 130%, the overall state population will be increase by a spectacular 37%. That increase is equal to 12.6 million more residents. Sometime in the middle of this new century, California will be the first of the U.S. states to reach the 50-million mark. Just as a reality check, the entire United Kingdom currently has only 62 million citizens.

Between 2000 and 2030, the U.S. Census projects that the country will add an estimated 80 million new residents – an increase equal to the size of Germany – the 16th largest country in the world!

Even though California’s current fiscal profile remains disturbing, California has never been much more than a large collection of more or less popular local markets. There are signs already that in the Silicon Valley, in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles proper, there is a shortage of affordable housing units. Many young adults still want to live in such popular locations. And as a sure sign of the future, the U.S. Census is projecting that California will be home to 12 million school children in the year 2030. That is a number larger than the entire population of job-rich Virginia.

Oregon: The “California lifestyle” phenomenon now extends all the way up the Pacific Coast to include Vancouver, B.C. Oregon, like its western cousin Colorado, is experiencing steady population growth as a many-decade trend. Since mostly younger adults move to the state, only 12% of the state population will be aged 65 in the year 2030. In fact every age group is projected to grow by at least 20% in the next 20 years. The number of residents under age 18 could increase by 32%.

With a population approaching six million, the state will find its way onto the top-twenty list. Oregon is one of six western states included in this article. American migrants to the western region tend to be better educated, have business skills or capital, and are seeking both a new lifestyle and employment. The Pacific Coast in Oregon is probably one of the best preserved coastlines in the country. Access to natural settings is important to Americans relocating to the West.

Washington: This is the third member of the ’growth coast’ team, which is projected to have a combined population of 60 million residents in 2030. Washington state has gone from being a respectable mid-size state to one that will be ranked among the top ten in only 20 years. The state will likely replace longtime top-ten ranked, New Jersey.

In two decades, Census projects that 30% of the state’s population will be under the age of 30 – 20% higher than the national average. Seniors will comprise only 11% of the population, a number that is half the national average. Decades of migration by young Americans to the state will have an additive effect. Washington is projected to be one of the youngest, and most rapidly growing of all of the states. Nearly two-hundred thousand Americans moved to Washington state in the past decade alone.

Utah: There was a time when this state was so small that it ranked among those 20 states that are very small (under three million residents). In the next 20 years, most of those other states will remain that way, as their adult populations age and the impact of immigration in many non-metro regions will be minimal. But this small state grew by half a million people in the past decade alone, and it is projected to grow by another million residents by the year 2030.

Unlike any other state in the union, Utah’s rapid growth is based largely on natural increase. As a result, the state has the lowest median age, the highest percentage of children, and the lowest percentage of seniors in the country. While the U.S. is headed for a median age of 40 when the Baby Boom retires, Utah’s median age will have risen to a mere 30. In the past decade, migration to the state from other states was also noticeable at +37,000. Immigration from abroad was rather large for a state this small (+70,000).

Utah’s high birth rate is to Utah what foreign immigration and citizen relocation is to most of the other high growth states – the reason why its population rank among the states keeps rising.

Colorado: In 1990, the state had the same population as did Connecticut.  Since then it has added two million residents, and by now, it is on the top-twenty list of the largest states.  It is projected to add another one and a half million residents in the coming two decades. That would make Colorado the size of the longtime East Coast urban center, Massachusetts.

Like most of the other Western states, Colorado has a very young demographic. All age groups there are projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to be growing by at least 25% in the next two decades. The state’s median age will be 10% lower than the U.S. median. The school age population will be one third larger than the national average, and there will be 20% fewer seniors in Colorado. In the past decade, Colorado gained from more than a 100,000 Americans who moved to the state, as well as from nearly 200,000 foreign immigrants. This is one state that has been firing on all four growth cylinders for some time now. It has a high birth rate, a low mortality rate, strong in-migration from other states, as well as substantial foreign immigration.

Texas: In a couple of decades, Texas will be the top American mega-state. While it currently lags California by 12 million people, it is projected to grow by at least eight million in the next two decades. Every age group in the state is projected to grow by at least 30%. That is, 30%. The under age 18 cohort will be twice the size of its senior population. Texas will have one of the highest ratios of kids to seniors among the states.

Texas added one million immigrants to its many vibrant, urban communities in the past decade. And at the same time, 800,000 residents of other states moved there. In fact, nearly one out of seven Americans who moved from one state to another moved to Texas. If the story of the 21st century in America is its continuing rapid growth from legal immigration, Texas is headed toward owning the first chapter.

Florida: Like Arizona, Florida will have such rapid growth that its substantial – and mostly affluent – senior population will create a huge number of service jobs. In the next two decades, the senior population will increase by five million people. And while there will be a projected eight million seniors in the state by the year 2030, residents under the age of 18 will also grow by 58%. There will be nearly six million people in Florida under the age of 18.

In a couple of decades, Texas will be the top American mega-state.

In 2010, Florida had a population of nearly 19 million. It currently is ranked right behind New York state in size. But in the next decade, it will zoom past the Empire State and it is projected to have 30 million residents in the next two decades.

Over a million Americans moved to Florida in the past decade – one of our every five people who changed states. The 900,000 immigrants who moved to the state comprise one of the most complex set of national origins in the union. And like New York City, the state of Florida receives new Spanish-speaking residents from many, many countries in the hemisphere, not only Mexico.  Miami and Tampa will no longer be the only Florida cities with substantial Spanish-speaking populations.

North Carolina: In the past decade, nearly a million people moved to North Carolina. While a good part of this migration was attributable to foreign immigration, the largest portion was due to relocating Americans. Like neighboring Virginia, which experienced nearly half a million relocations, the key to the fast-growth North Carolina economy is white collar and professional jobs. Looking forward, the next 20 years appears to hold even more growth for the state, which could land North Carolina in fifth place among the states. Unlike most of the south, North Carolina relies on a whole network of important mid-size urban centers, which are linked to the federal job hub and other East Coast cities by two important interstates, I-85 and I-95.

North Carolina demographics have the classic features of a fast-growth modern economy. School age population is projected to grow 57%. The senior population will be 10% smaller than the national median. Every age group under age 30 is projected to grow by at least 25%.

Virginia: As the federal government’s reach into the modern U.S. economy has continued to grow, both in terms of high-paying public and private sector jobs, Virginia has become the nations’ executive suburb. Unlike its less affluent Beltway neighbor, Maryland, the state continues to grow rapidly. At this point, it is not clear whether North Carolina will surpass Virginia as the bigger of the two fast-growth states. But it is clear that both states will enjoy high rankings on the national top-ten list by the year 2030. That is, unless the size and scope of the federal government is reduced by the overall political direction of the union. America’s brand of decentralist federalism could, for the first time, put a limit on the size and scope of the central government. That would affect federal and private sector employment that is dependent upon continued federal spending.

In the meantime, the standout demographic characteristic of the commonwealth, at this point, is the rapid projected increase in its school-age population. That age cohort is expected to grow by 33%, making it one of the largest school-age cohorts in the country. On the other hand, the projected percentage of seniors in the state, at only 11 %, will make it of one of the smallest senior cohorts. Virginia has a high-salary, younger household economy, geared toward the job-rich mecca of the modern American economy, the U.S. federal government and its related private sector industries.

About the Author

Peter Fugiel is a Chicago-based research analyst who was a leading municipal bond analyst for many years. His current research specialty is the analysis of American fiscal federalism and market-based housing demographics. His new research website will be found at

A Note about U.S. Census Projections

The Population Division of the U.S. Bureau of the Census routinely releases projections that indicate long-term trends for population growth and the demographic factors that comprise changes in population growth. While projections are not predictions, they are, nevertheless, based on hard data that the Census constantly updates.

Three of the most useful long-term projections released by the Division are:

  • Population Projections;
  • Annual Components of Population Change (natural increase vs. immigration); and
  • “Age Pyramids” (age cohort sizes) for the 50 states.