- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s population grew nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country over the last year, primarily because of the state’s high birth rate, according to a new report from the U.S. Census.

Utah added more than 40,000 people this year, enough to fill a city the size of Bountiful. While the state’s economy is relatively strong, most of that growth didn’t come from new residents moving in, the Census found in new population estimates released this week.

Utah still has the nation’s highest birth rate and its youngest median age. About 90 percent of this year’s increase came from so-called natural growth, or having more births than deaths. Net migration to the state totaled just over 4,000 people.

That’s the opposite of what most residents assume, said Robert Grow, head of Envision Utah, a group working with Gov. Gary Herbert to plan for future growth.

“I used to tell people, if you don’t like the growth and you want to see the culprit, go home and look in the mirror,” Grow told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1zz5pSg).

When residents assume the growth is caused by new people moving in, they don’t feel as committed to handling the challenges that a burgeoning population brings, he said. Growth looks like it will be on the agenda for years to come: Utah is on track to nearly double its current population of 2.9 million people by the year 2050.

And some wonder whether the Census estimates covering July 2013 through July 2014 lowballed the number of people moving into the state.

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the University of Utah’s business school, called the figures perplexing. Most of the people moving to Utah came from outside the country, while within the U.S., more people actually left the state than came in, the Census found.

“It’s not what we would expect given our economic growth,” Gochnour said, adding that the Census estimates could later be revised.

The migration counts include people leaving for Mormon missions. This year, more young members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went on missions after the church lowered its age requirements, Grow said.

Utah’s population grew by 1.4 percent over the last year, nearly double the national growth rate of 0.75 percent, the report found. It was the 8th fastest growing state in the country.

The country’s birth rate has been dropping in recent years, partly as people delay having children amid the lackluster recovery from the economic recession, said Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah.

That’s been true in Utah as well, but it’s less pronounced, she said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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