Population Along U.S. Coasts Continues to Grow
A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Population Trends Along the Coastal United States: 1980-2008,” provides a detailed assessment of demographics in the 673 coastal counties that as of 2003 were the home of about 153 million people, 53% of the nation’s entire population.
According to the Census Bureau, 10 of the 25 most populous cities in the U.S. are located in coastal counties, which constitute only 17% of the total land area in the country, excluding Alaska. Alaska was factored out of most analysis in the report because of its long coastline and small population.
The nation’s coastal population is expected to increase by more than 7 million by 2008 and 12 million by 2015, according to Woods and Poole Economics, Inc., whose county-level populations were used in the report.
Total coastal population between 1980 and 2003 increased by 33 million people, or 28%, the report says, and that is roughly consistent with the overall increase in the nation’s population during that time.
“Public policymakers and coastal managers are confronted with the daily task of finding a balance between benefiting from economic growth while mitigating the effects of this growth on coastal environments,” the report concludes. “The task is becoming ever more challenging as the coastal population continues to grow in a limited space.”
Among the findings of the report:
- The 10 coastal counties that experienced the most population growth from 1980 to 2003 accounted for 30% of the country’s coastal population growth during this period. Los Angeles had the highest growth overall, followed by Harris County, Texas, and Riverside, Calif. San Diego County is projected to see the most population increase from 2003-2008. Along with Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in California, it will account for 12% of the expected total population increase in coastal areas.
- In terms of the rate of change from 1980 to 2003, at the top of the list were Flagler County, Fla., whose population was up by 470%; followed by Osceola County, Fla., with a 318% increase.
- The largest state-to-state population migration between 1995 and 2000 was from New York to Florida, largely because of retirees. During that time period there also was an increase in migration from coastal to non-coastal states as California contributed to large migration flows to Nevada and Arizona.
- Most of the nation’s most densely populated areas are along the coast, and 23 of the 25 most densely populated U.S. counties are coastal. Coastal counties average 300 persons per square mile, much higher than the national average of 98 persons. New York City’s counties are the most densely populated in the nation, averaging almost 39,000 persons per square mile.
- Since 1980, population density has increased in coastal counties by 65 persons per square mile, or 28%. By 2008, it is expected to increase by another 13 persons per square mile, or 4%.
- In 2000, coastal counties contained 51% of the nation’s total housing supply, led by California, Florida and New York, which comprised 41% of the coastal county total.
- In 2000, there were approximately 2.1 million seasonal homes in coastal counties, 54% of the nation’s total, led by Florida, with 24%, and followed by Michigan, California and New York.
- Several coastal counties with low populations have emerged as popular seasonal destinations. There are large numbers of seasonal homes in Maine, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, northern Michigan, Maryland and Delaware.
- Between 1980 and 2000, the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups, which constitute the Baby Boom generation, increased significantly as a share of the total coastal population — from 21% to 30%. At the same time, the proportion of younger adults aged 18-24 fell from 13% to 9%. These numbers are relatively consistent with the national average.
- Although the data do not show any great change over the years in the 65-and-older age group, which increased its share of the coastal population by about 1% between 1980 and 2000, the number of Americans entering that age group in the upcoming decades is of growing attention.
- On average, coastal counties have an almost 17% higher median household income than non-coastal counties.
The report also identifies regional growth trends in the coastal areas between 2003 and 2008:
- Over that period, the coastal population of the Northeast is expected to increase by about 1.7 million people. Six of the counties expecting large population increases are in and around New York and four are outside of Washington, D.C. Fairfax, Va., is expected to show the greatest increase in the region, with growth of more than 100,000 people during the five year period. On a percentage basis, of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the region, eight are located in Virginia and two in Maryland, all averaging 13%-23%.
- The Southeast is projected to grow by 1.1 million, or 8%, the largest increase of any region on a percent basis. Of the 10 leading counties in population change, eight are expected to be in Florida. In the southernmost portion of Florida, Broward County’s population is expected to grow by 167,000 and Palm Beach County by 151,000. The fastest growing county in the region on a percentage basis is Brunswick, N.C., with 17% growth, followed by Nassau, Fla., with 16%. The fastest-growing counties in South Carolina and Georgia are expected to average 10%-12% growth.
- The second-highest rate of growth is expected to occur in the Gulf of Mexico region, which extends from the Florida Keys westward to the southern tip of Texas, following the coastlines of six states. The region’s population is expected to grow by 1.2 million, or 7%. The leading coastal counties in population change are in Texas and along Florida’s central Gulf Coast. Harris, Texas, located northwest of Galveston Bay and containing the city of Houston, is expected to increase by 168,750 persons, more than double that of any other county in the region.
- The Pacific region’s population, including Hawaii but excluding Alaska, is expected to increase by 2.2 million people, or 6%. Counties in Southern California will be responsible for 37% of this projected growth.
- The population of the Great Lakes region is expected to increase by about 650,000. Lake County, Ill., located north of Chicago, is expected to climb by 74,000 people, and Oakland County, Mich., by 72,000, the greatest increases of any counties in the region.
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