The 10 Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities

The South is seeing renewed growth, while the Rust Belt is flagging.

Oil and gas are likely why people are heading to Midland, Texas.

Oil and gas are likely why people are heading to Midland, Texas.

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People go where the jobs are. Or, at least, that's how it looks from the numbers. New data show that boom towns of the oil and gas industry are seeing some of the fastest population growth. Meanwhile, several high-unemployment areas in the rust belt are losing people.

Below are the 10 metropolitan areas that gained the most people between 2011 and 2012, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Metropolitan Area 2011 Population 2012 Population Percent Change
Midland, TX 144,953 151,662 4.6
Clarksville, TN-KY 264,625 274,342 3.7
Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL 239,021 247,665 3.6
The Villages, FL 98,237 101,620 3.4
Odessa, TX 139,588 144,325 3.4
Jacksonville, NC 177,430 183,263 3.3
Austin-Round Rock, TX 1,780,708 1,834,303 3.0
Casper, WY 76,356 78,621 3.0
Columbus, GA-AL 301,865 310,531 2.9
Manhattan, KS 95,150 97,810 2.8

Oil and gas likely drove migration to cities like Midland and Odessa, Tex., as well as several other places not included on the list. Some North Dakota towns that are epicenters of the shale gas boom but are not considered metro areas have also posted some impressive growth—Williston added 9.3 percent to its population in one year, and Dickinson added 6.5 percent.

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Of course, it's not all about booming industry. Some places are gaining people after losing both jobs and people during the recession.

"What you see is the effect of the recession winding down a little bit," says Kenneth Johnson, a professor of sociology and demographer at the University of New Hampshire. "You can see the pickup in growth in some of the Florida cities ... and Nevada, in Clark County." Clark County is home to Las Vegas, which—though not among the top 10—also posted strong population growth from 2011 to 2012.

Florida and Nevada were hit particularly hard by the bursting of the housing bubble. Though still plagued by high foreclosure and unemployment rates, they are recovering along with the rest of the country, which may be one reason why people are flocking back to cities in those states.

Not everywhere is growing; some cities' populations shrank from 2011 to 2012, and economics may once again explain the shift. A majority of the 10 fastest-shrinking cities are in the Rust Belt, which faces prolonged difficulties as manufacturing struggles to regain jobs it lost not only during the recession but also in the prior decade. Some have jobless rates well over the national rate—Weirton-Steubenville, W.V.-Ohio, for example, has an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent, and the rate is 9.1 percent in both Flint, Mich., and Johnstown, Pa.

Below are 10 cities where the jobless rate has declined.

Metropolitan Area 2011 Population 2012 Population Percent Change
Pine Bluff, AR 98,973 97,451 -1.5
Joplin, MO 176,663 174,327 -1.3
Flint, MI 422,053 418,408 -0.9
Danville, IL 81,367 80,727 -0.8
Johnstown, PA 142,624 141,584 -0.7
Binghamton, NY 250,293 248,538 -0.7
East Stroudsburg, PA 169,986 168,798 -0.7
Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 123,322 122,547 -0.6
Cumberland, MD-WV 102,612 101,968 -0.6
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 561,697 558,206 -0.6

While the economy recovers, however, strong demographic forces will also determine how the population shifts and grows in the years to come, says Johnson. An aging population, for example, could send people to the South in search of warmer climates.

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"It's slowed down now, but you can see Florida counties starting to pick up again. Some of that retirement stream that had been frozen in place by the recession is starting to flow again," he says.

In addition, the issue of birth rates will continue to hang over the country as a whole. Johnson says that the question now is whether women who put off childbearing during the recession decide to have those children now. If they do not—or if they missed their window of opportunity—that could be a continued drag on population growth.

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