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Democratic states hit hardest as most U.S. counties see population drain

The biggest loss, of 159,621 residents, was in Los Angeles county in California, followed by New York County in New York and Cook County in Illinois

March 24, 2022 12:02pm

Updated: March 24, 2022 12:03pm

New data released on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that nearly three-quarters of all U.S. counties experienced a natural decrease in population in comparison to the previous two years – a phenomenon many blame on the COVID-19 pandemic while others point to economic factors.

According to the data, more than 73% of U.S. counties experienced natural decrease, or an excess of deaths over births, in 2022 – up from 55.5% in 2020 and 45.5% in 2019.

"In 2021, fewer births, an aging population and increased mortality – intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic - contributed to a rise in natural decrease," the U.S. Census Bureau said in a statement.

Kenneth M. Johnson, sociology professor and demographer at the University of New Hampshire, believes that low fertility rates and an increasingly aging population could be to blame for the numbers – but admitted he was surprised at the scale of the findings.

“I think one of the most important findings is the fact that almost 2,300 counties had more deaths than births in them. That’s unheard of in American history,” he told the Washington Post.

The numbers appear to follow a trend in which more than half of all U.S. counties lost residents over the course of the decade, with almost all growth being represented in metropolitan areas.

The biggest loss, of 159,621 residents, was in Los Angeles county in California, followed by New York County in New York and Cook County in Illinois.

Meanwhile, the top 10 largest-gaining counties in 2021 (apart from Riverside County, California) are in Republican-led states like Arizona, Texas, Florida and Utah. 

But these findings appear to mirror a recent study from the Washington, D.C. based Tax Foundation which used U.S. Census Bureau data to show that while high-tax states with Democratic governors lost the largest number of residents, low-tax states with Republican governors welcomed the largest number of new residents in 2021

According to the data, the five states (including Washington, D.C.) that lost the most residents were Washington, D.C. (D), New York (D), Illinois (D), Hawaii (D) and California (D).

Meanwhile, the five states that saw the largest gains in population were Idaho (R), Utah (R), Montana (R), Arizona (R) and South Carolina (R).

According to Tax Foundation analyst Jared Walczak, “The picture painted by this population shift is a clear one of people leaving high-tax, high-cost states for lower-tax, lower-cost alternatives.”

“If we include the District of Columbia, then in the top one-third of states for population growth since the start of the pandemic (April 2020 to July 2021 data), the average combined top marginal state and local income tax rate is 3.5 percent, while in the bottom third of states, it is about 7.3 percent,” he added.