- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004


New Mexico, Idaho, Utah and other states blessed with wide-open spaces are seeing steady population growth as Americans seek more elbow room to spread out.

The Census Bureau’s annual population estimates showed that the United States added 3 million people — mostly because of immigration — last year for an overall population just short of 294 million. The top 10 list of fastest-growing states was dominated by those in the West and South, with Nevada leading the way for the 18th consecutive year.

Although favorable weather and jobs continue to be primary lures, people also are looking for places that offered space, affordability and the great outdoors. That helped place Idaho fourth on the list of fastest-growing states. Utah was seventh and New Mexico 10th.

Robert Lang, a demographer with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, said those states appeal to people who want to escape major metro areas such as Los Angeles and Denver.

“This is part of a long diffusion of the population of the country because of the interstates, airports and the Internet,” Mr. Lang said. “We use the whole country now.”

Utah’s population is 2.4 million, up 1.6 percent over the past year and up 7 percent since 2000. Idaho’s population rose 2 percent last year to nearly 1.4 million. There is growth around the capital, Boise, and in Kootenai County in the north.

Nevada, spurred in large part by the rapid growth around Las Vegas, grew 4.1 percent to 2.3 million people.

Arizona had the second-largest growth, up 3 percent to 5.7 million, while Florida was third with a 2.3 percent increase to 17.4 million. Georgia, Texas, Delaware and North Carolina also were in the top 10.

Massachusetts was the only state that had a population decline — down by 3,800 people to 6.41 million.

The bureau estimated that North Dakota gained population for the first time since at least 2000. The July 2004 population of 634,366 was higher by 966 persons compared with the previous year.

There also has been small but steady growth in Montana and Wyoming, probably in part because of people seeking to leave urban settings for a small-town lifestyle, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Put yourself in someone’s shoes living in Los Angeles,” said Marty Bakken, a 30-year veteran of the fast-growing real estate market around Bozeman, Mont. “If they can make a living and provide for their family here, they’re probably going to do it.”

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