2021 population estimates show NC growth continues

By Michael Cline

Chapel Hill, NC – North Carolina’s population growth continues, despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state gained more people than all but Texas, Florida, and Arizona.

Between the April 1, 2020 Census count and July 1, 2021, North Carolina added 112,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest population estimates (a gain of 1.1%). On July 1, 2021, 10.6 million people were living in North Carolina and the state remained the 9th largest state in the nation.

Net Migration Drives Growth as Never Before

Owing to an aging population and increase in deaths due to the pandemic, for the first time, net migration contributed to all of North Carolina’s population growth. Before the pandemic, net migration accounted for about two-thirds of North Carolina’s population growth.

During the period covered by the Census Bureau’s estimate, 114,000 more people moved to North Carolina than left – with the overall majority (107,000 or 94%) coming from other states.

International migration accounted for only 7,000 people added to North Carolina’s population over this period. Prior to the pandemic, international migration accounted for about one-quarter of all net gains from migration. According to these estimates, there were 145,000 deaths and 142,000 births, leading to a natural population decline of -2,500 people.

North Carolina vs National Trends

Nationally, the population grew at the slowest rate since the nation’s founding (0.1%). The pandemic affected key drivers of population growth by limiting immigration, lowering pregnancy rates, and leading to early deaths for thousands of Americans.

The South was the only region of the country that had a positive net migration. The West saw population growth in the same period, but it was attributed to natural increase and net international migration. Meanwhile, the Northeast lost population.

These population estimates were the first to incorporate the results from the 2020 Census counts. The Census Bureau will publish population estimates for counties in March and cities and towns in May.  Those will be the Census Bureau’s first local population estimates to incorporate information from the 2020 Census.

See the Census Bureau release for more details on the national results of the 2021 population estimates.

The State Demographer’s certified July 1, 2020 county and municipality population estimates were calibrated to the 2020 Census count. For those interested in North Carolina’s population future, the State Demographer will publish the first population projections for counties (to 2050) calibrated to the 2020 Census by the end of January 2022.

Dr. Michael Cline is the state demographer for North Carolina at the Office of State Budget and Management. Each year, he publishes population estimates and projections for North Carolina and its counties.

Carolina Demography is an applied demography group located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.