Collin and Denton counties were among the top 10 counties in the US for population growth last year, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
Five of the last year’s top 10 largest-gaining counties — Collin at No. 2, Fort Bend (No. 4), Williamson (No. 5), Denton (No. 6) and Montgomery (No. 8) — were in Texas. Those five counties grew by nearly 150,000 residents combined, the bureau reported.
Across the country, 65.6% of counties experienced population growth from domestic migration. At the same time, 73% of counties experienced population decline from natural causes, meaning the number of deaths in a given county was greater than the number of births.
Harris County and Dallas County remained the nation’s third- and ninth-largest counties with populations of 4.7 million and 2.6 million residents, respectively. Dallas County lost just under 25,000 residents last year, while Harris County lost about 4,500.
The trend in natural population decline was fueled by increased mortality — owing largely to COVID-19 pandemic — as well as an aging population and a drop in births.
“You have more older Americans, and birth rates are low so you don’t have many children being born,” said Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire. “And then along comes COVID, and it hits older adults the most, often in rural areas without access to good health care.
“It’s like a perfect storm, if you will, that produced this natural decrease,” Johnson said.
The nation’s biggest population declines occurred in New England and in some of the largest metro areas, census data shows. Los Angeles County lost nearly 185,000 residents last year, while New York County shrank by some 117,000. The population of California’s Bay Area, which includes San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, fell by over 116,000, and Cook County (Chicago) lost about 102,000 residents.
Among the metropolitan areas, Dallas-Fort Worth was the nation’s leader in population growth, adding 97,290 residents. Three other Texas metro areas were also among the nation’s 10 largest-gaining: Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land at No. 3, with a jump of about 69,000; Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown at No. 4 (53,000); and San Antonio-New Braunfels at No. 8 (35,000).
Tanya O’Neil, team leader of Estancia Group, which is brokered by Fathom Realty and works in Collin and Denton counties, described Denton County’s population surge as explosive. Collin County’s growth, however, she called “past explosive,” noting that homes there are going far above asking price.
“It’s like there’s this legend of Collin County as this lost city of gold that’s taken hold of everyone,” she said.
O’Neil said that many of her clients are attracted to Plano because of the city’s schools, even if she suggests looking at less in-demand markets like Aubrey and Wylie. She noted that many are from states like California and Oregon, where stringent health measures during the pandemic kept many children in virtual school.
Some customers are looking to get not only more for their money, but also a different lifestyle, O’Neil said.
“Californians are my happiest clients because of what they can get for their money here vs. over there,” she said. “People in California feel like they’re getting mansions here.”
Dr. Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s Population Division, said domestic migration patterns shifted in 2021.
“Even though over time we’ve seen a higher number of counties with natural decrease and net international migration continuing to decline, in the past year, the contribution of domestic migration counteracted these trends so there were actually more counties growing than losing population,” Hartley said.
But the explosive growth in Texas, North Texas in particular, doesn’t come without its challenges. Last year, ground broke on a $490 million lake project in Fannin County meant to help North Texas contend with being one of the fastest-growing regions in the country.
But officials say even that lake may not be enough to keep up with new residents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.