Michael Barone

The Census Bureau's holiday treat is its release of annual state population estimates, to be digested slowly in the new year.

The headline from this year's release is that population growth from July 2012 to July 2013 was 0.72 percent, lower than in the two preceding years and the lowest since the Great Depression 1930s.

This reflects continuing low, below-replacement-rate birth rates and lower immigration than in 1982-2007. Net immigration from Mexico evidently continues to be zero.

The nation's economy may be growing again, but Americans -- and potential Americans -- are not acting like it. There's a parallel here with poll results showing that majorities still believe we are in a recession that the National Bureau of Economic Research says ended in June 2009, nearly five years ago.

Sluggish population growth is matched by sluggish geographic mobility. The Census Bureau reports that only 4.8 million Americans moved across state lines in 2012 -- about half the percentage that did so in the boom years of the 1990s.

Americans were similarly immobile, indeed even more so, in the 1930s (the Okies fleeing the dust bowl for California were a picturesque but demographically minor exception).

Numbers can seem cold and impersonal, but beneath these numbers is a picture of a pessimistic, risk-averse people.

But not uniformly, and not everywhere. Population growth has been accelerating in states that depend heavily on the private sector and declining in states with relatively high dependence on government.

This reflects the wearing off of the effects of the big jump in government spending triggered by the 2009 stimulus package and a heartening, though limited, resurgence of the private sector as government spending has slowed.

Thus population growth has slowed, though remaining above the national average, in the District of Columbia (where it has surged through gentrification), Maryland and Virginia.

Growth rates have declined as well in other states with high levels of public sector and federal contract jobs -- New Mexico, Alaska, Mississippi.

But growth rates have increased significantly in most of the Midwest and Rocky Mountain heartland. That has been especially true in the nation's growth leader this decade, North Dakota, with its Bakken shale boom.

Growth has accelerated in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, which are finally recovering from the collapse of their housing markets in 2007-10. Colorado and Arizona have been attracting migrants from other states, while Nevada's growth is fueled mostly by immigrants.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM