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Northeast, Midwest cities rebound, but fastest growth in South

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Cities in the South grew at the fastest clip in 2023, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, while Midwest and Northeast cities rebounded.

The latest figures come from the Vintage 2023 Population Estimates released Thursday. Experts said the migration trends likely have little to do with politics and much more to do with housing and jobs.

In the Northeast, cities with 50,000 people or more grew by an average of 0.2% in 2023 after declining an average of 0.3% in 2022. In the Midwest, the same cities grew 0.1% after declining an average of 0.2% in 2022. Those in the West went up by an average of 0.2% from 2022 to 2023. Cities in the South grew the fastest – by an average of 1%.

Growth in the South was not uniform, most was in Texas and big cities.

“The population growth across the South in 2023 was driven by significant numeric and percentage gains among its cities,” said Crystal Delbé, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Population Division. “Thirteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities were in the South, with eight in Texas alone.”

The fastest-growing city with a population of 20,000 or more was near Dallas. The population of Celina, Texas, grew by 26.6%. That’s more than 53 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5%. San Antonio, Texas, added the most people (about 22,000) of any other city in 2023, reclaiming its No. 1 spot on the list of gainers.

While some see the trends as a shift from Democrat-controlled states to Republican-controlled states, politics likely has little to do with it.

Harvard Professor of Government Ryan Enos, who uses politics, psychology, and geography to study American attitudes and behaviors, said housing and jobs were the big factors.

“Notice that this growth is mostly in Texas and mostly in big cities,” he told The Center Square. “This is people relocating for cheaper housing, growing industries, and good weather and these people then have families fueling population growth.”

He said the group of people who move for political reasons was “exceedingly small.”

That’s supported by U.S. Census data. The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement asks respondents who lived in a different place the year before their primary reason for moving. The 20 specific reasons fall into four general categories: housing-related, family-related, employment-related, and other. In 2022, the most recent year for which data was available, the survey found 84.2% of people moved for housing, family and employment. The “other” category represented about 15.9%.

Ryan Strickler, associate professor of political science at Colorado State University at Pueblo, said partisanship has little to do with migration trends. But migration trends could affect politics down the line because most people who move hold on to their political beliefs.

“It could make politics in the South potentially less ‘deep red.’ I don’t want to overstate this; South Carolina is not going to be a ‘swing state’ anytime soon,” he told The Center Square. “But when people move, sometimes they adapt their views to their local political community, but often they keep their political views. In the South, this may at the margins weaken state-level Republican advantages.”