CCP Virus, Census Bureau, cities, coronavirus, counties, COVID 19, crime, demogaphics, homelessness, housing, Im-Politic, population, taxes
I never expected the U.S. Census Bureau to act like a pusher of hopium. Now that I’ve read through its new report on county-level population changes from 2021 through last year, I’m not so sure.
“Growth in the Nation’s Largest Counties Rebounds in 2022,” declared the report’s press release. But it didn’t. Certainly not in total, which is what counts the most.
The release makes clear that by “the largest counties,” Census means the United States’ ten most populous. In descending demographic order, they are:
Los Angeles (Cal.))
San Diego (Cal.)
For those unfamiliar with how some of the less familiar names correlate with more familiar names, Cook is Chicago and nearby suburbs, Harris is Houston and nearby suburbs, Maricopa is Phoenix and nearby suburbs, Kings is Brooklyn, and Orange and Riverside are Los Angeles suburbs. That is, on balance, they’re all really urban.
If the growth of this group rebounded, then you’d expect them collectively to have gained population between 2021-22. But altogether, they lost 74,712 residents.
Now that’s a heck of a lot better than their performance in 2021, when their net losses were 366,423. (Census’ 2020-21 figures cover a period three months longer than the 2021-22 numbers.) But a loss of nearly 75,000 people is by no means “growth.”
Maybe Census was referring to the fact that between 2020 and 2021, seven of these top ten counties lost population whereas from 2021 to 2022, only four saw absolute declines (Los Angeles, Cook, Orange, and Kings)? Or that all of these people losers experienced slower population declines from 2021-22 than the year before?
Unfortunately, for several reasons, neither development seems brag-worthy, either. In the first place, in two of the big counties where population grew in absolute terms last year, the growth was minimal: 0.04 percent in San Diego, and 0.13 percent in Miami-Dade. The first in particular is so meager that it could fall within the margin of error.
In the second place, the main drivers of big county/urban population loss – the CCP Virus pandemic and associated mandated and voluntary curbs on behavior – was much less serious last year than the year before. And yet overall, folks were still leaving these big counties in 2022.
In the third place, demographically, seven of the top ten remain underwater compared to just before the virus’ arrival. The exceptions are Harris, Maricopa, and Riverside.
All of which suggests that they mostly continue to strike Americans as unacceptable places to live for other reasons as well – some chronic, some new. Rising crime rates and taxes, worsening public services and quality of life (due, for example, to surging homeless populations), and increasingly unaffordable housing (of course a major contributor to homelessness) come readily to mind.
Since the nation has by no means yet returned to its pre-CCP Virus normal, the continuing fade of that shock may draw ever more Americans back to the big counties. And to her credit, the senior Census official quoted in the release sounded much more measured than the headline.
But the Bureau’s new report demonstrates that on net, the verdict being delivered by Americans voting with their feet is that these big, highly urban counties are still failing to cope with a series of problems and challenges that were either created or worsened by the pandemic, and that a meaningful turnaround still isn’t in sight.