How Missed Census Estimates Hint at Growth Markets

Comparison of Projections to Actual Population Totals Can Tell Us About Future Growth

By Published on .

AdAgeStat often writes about and uses Census estimates. But how good is the Census Bureau at guessing population totals? Every 10 years we get to find out. Six years ago the Census Bureau published a set of projections for each state for the 2010 and subsequent Census years. The newly released 2010 Census counts shows just how good it was. But the real story for marketers is in the places where the estimates break down.

For the national total, the Bureau's projection branch is to be congratulated. Its projection for July 1, 2010 was 308,935,581, which is only 0.06% or 190,043 persons above the April 1, 2010 Census count of 308,745,538. Slowing immigration due to the recession could account for that all by itself.

Largest differences between projected and actual state populations
State 2010 Census 2010 Projection Difference
Texas 25.15 24.65 496,673
Colorado 5.03 4.83 197,642
North Carolina 9.54 9.35 189,660
Alabama 4.78 4.60 183,406
Washington 6.72 6.54 182,577
New Jersey 8.79 9.02 -226,337
Arizona 6.39 6.64 -245,364
Florida 18.80 19.25 -450,381
Michigan 9.88 10.43 -545,043
California 37.25 38.07 -813,178

Their projections for each state, however, often vary considerably from the Census count. Numerically the biggest difference was in California, where the Census count was about 800,000 below the projection. A similar story was told in Florida. Its Census count was about 450,000 below the projection.

Three other states (NJ, AZ & MI) fell short of projected population by 150,000 or more. Of particular note was Michigan. It was projected to gain 450,000 residents but in fact was the only state to see its population decline (by almost 55,000) from 2000 to 2010. Again, the recession is the likely cause, as these states were hit particularly hard. The drop in home prices and sharp auto industry decline undoubtedly lead to much more out-migration from those five states and less immigration than was projected.

By contrast the 2010 Census count for Texas came in at almost half a million persons above the projection. Seven other states (CO, NC, AL, WA, SC, UT & OK), all in the South or West, exceeded their projected population by at least 150,000 persons. In cases like Wyoming and Utah, these differences represent as much as 7.8% of the states' total population. States that exceeded their projected population counts by big margins were those generally better able to ride out the economic downturn.

Not even the Census Bureau can predict the future growth prospects for each state, particularly considering the severe economic conditions over the past five years. It would seem, however, that the growth prospects over the next five to 10 years will be better for those states that were able to exceed their projected population in 2010.

Based on the 2010 Census results compared with projections, here is a list of five hot growth states from now to 2020: Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Washington and Utah. Other states may also have good growth prospects, but these five appear to be in a better position than most to attract working-age people both from other states and abroad to power their economic growth.

Most Popular