Arizona is fastest-growing state, with 3.6% growth

Rate, fueled by residents of other states relocating, edges out Nevada's

December 22, 2006|By Nicholas Riccardi | Nicholas Riccardi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Arizona became the fastest-growing state in the nation last year, as the western United States continued to power the country's expansion, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday.

Arizona added 213,000 residents between July 1, 2005, and July 1 this year - growing at a 3.6 percent clip and narrowly beating out perennial champion Nevada, which grew at a rate of 3.5 percent, the census reported.

"Living in the Phoenix area, this is no surprise," said Steve Doig, an Arizona State University journalism professor who tracks census data. "The big fear of long-term Arizonans is we're turning into Southern California, and we are because a large portion of Southern California is moving here."

Demographers say that most of Arizona's growth comes from "in-migration," residents of other parts of the country, especially California, resettling there. The state's enormous illegal immigration problem - 440,000 undocumented migrants are caught entering from Mexico annually - does not appear to have as significant an impact, because most of those who make it into the country undetected leave Arizona for other destinations.

"There are housing developments sprouting everywhere, whether they are on former farmland or in the desert," said Tom Rex, associate director of the Center for Competitiveness and Prosperity Research at Arizona State University.

The pace of development has strained Arizona's resources and preoccupied local officials, Rex said.

"All they can think about is getting the sewer lines out to the new housing and getting the roads in," he said.

The Arizona numbers reflect a redistribution of population across the entire country that's kept the West as the fastest-growing region for most of the past decade.

The Census Bureau estimates annual state population totals using local records of births and deaths, IRS records of people moving within the United States and census statistics on immigrants. The bureau does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, and most experts believe that the number of illegal immigrants is underestimated.

Among the findings for this year:

Texas gained the most people, about 580,000, followed by Florida, California, Georgia and Arizona.

North Carolina broke into the top 10 in total population, nudging New Jersey to 11th.

Four states - Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Michigan - and the District of Columbia lost population.

From July 2005 to July this year, the West grew at a 1.5 percent pace, faster than the South, which barely lagged at 1.4 percent. The most noticeable population decline was in Louisiana, which lost nearly 5 percent of its pre-Hurricane Katrina residents.

Maryland added 26,128 residents, growing 0.5 percent. In the Midwest, the big losers were Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.

Long a Republican stronghold, Arizona now has a moderate Democrat as its governor. Democrats picked up two congressional seats in last month's midterm election, and voters rejected a ballot initiative banning gay marriage.

Arizonans are used to a certain amount of political turmoil caused by the constant influx of new residents, said Marshall Vest, an economist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"Whenever you have a vote on any particular issue, you never know what it's going to be," because a large chunk of the electorate has just arrived, he said.

Arizona's economy is largely powered by growth - by the building of huge subdivisions and office buildings, and then the public financing of the infrastructure needed to house those new residents. It enjoyed spectacular run-ups in its real estate market over the past two years, but sales have plunged and prices stagnated, leaving some to predict that its expansion will slacken.

And while residents complain about increased traffic - and the booming Phoenix area resists high-rises and freeway expansions that would confirm its megalopolis status - political officials and residents alike support business and development, experts said.

"Arizona is the state where growth is good," Vest said, "and too much is just right."

Nicholas Riccardi writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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