Five Ways Tracking Population Changes Impacts North Carolinians
State Demographer's Population Estimates and Projections Are Used by Many

Different organizations throughout North Carolina use the State Demographer's population estimates and projections. Here are five examples of how the data is used.

Author: Danielle Hillie

Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau conducts a census – a full count of the population. But populations are constantly changing as people are born, die, and move in and out of an area. The North Carolina State Demographer, Dr. Michael Cline, is responsible for keeping up with that population change, producing annual population estimates and projections for all 100 counties in the state.  

Keeping close tabs on population change is more important to daily life for North Carolinians than you might think. Here are five ways annual population estimates are used to help better serve people living in the state. 

1.  Money Follows Population

A little over $200 in state funding per person is distributed to local communities based on their population. Any community experiencing growth would end up losing out on needed funds if they had to use outdated population data.

2. Knowing Community Characteristics Improves Services

Dr. Cline’s annual estimates include age,  sex, race, and ethnicity characteristics of county populations. NC Wildlife Law Enforcement District Supervisor, Jeremy Harrill, says these detailed population numbers help his agency effectively relay messages about public safety. 

“By looking at demographics of our district, which includes all or portions of 10 counties, we learned 17% of the population of one of our counties is Hispanic,” said Harrill. “Knowing we have a large Spanish-speaking community has helped us strategically produce resources to get out our message.  For example, we developed fishing-related resources in Spanish and utilized Spanish-speaking hunter education instructors for hosted classes in District 6.”

Fishing on Lake Tillery, NC
Fishing on Lake Tillery

3.  Targeting Grants

Dan Brosz, the Communications Director for the NC Arts Council, says they use these numbers to distribute Grassroots Arts Program grant funds. 

“These funds allow opportunities for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians to have impactful and engaging experiences with the arts.  These programs take place in schools, community festivals, theaters, parks, and every other place the arts occur,” said Brosz. “The value of having these numbers, adjusted on an annual basis, is that they allow us to provide the distribution of these monies representative to our state's changing populations. In addition, we used these formulas to distribute $9.4 million in federal CARES Act money the legislature allocated for the sustainability of North Carolina's vital arts sector.  These funds were distributed to 98 of the 100 counties on an equitable per capita basis. These funds helped save hundreds of organizations and jobs across the state and the population statistics helped us make sure that each county had access to their share.”

4. Tracking Trends

Ashley Cox, of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Crime Reporting Unit, says that she uses annual population estimates to create annual crime rates. 

“I’m responsible for creating jurisdictional populations for the various local law enforcement jurisdictions across the state. This includes colleges and universities as well as local, county, and state agencies. I take the municipal population estimates and combine them with the Group Quarters numbers to arrive at these jurisdictional populations,” said Cox. 

“We use the jurisdictional populations a few different ways. The first is creating annual rates of crime across the local law enforcement jurisdictions. In order to compare crime across law enforcement jurisdictional lines or, more often for us, across various years, we must have common data. Rates of crime enable us to do that and see trends over several years.”

5. Identifying Needed Services

Alamance County GIS Director Marlena Isley says she uses the State Demographer’s population estimates in several ways. These include within Fire District for ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating requirements, school district planning, and county budgeting for departmental requests for a segment of the population or specific area.

“For example,” she explained “We need estimated population within a projected EMS Service Area when potentially trying to build a new EMS base. We need to figure out the best area to base EMS services to best serve our population.”

NC fire station
Population data helps local governments identify where to locate services.

Where Do the Data Come From?

“Our office produces the official population estimates of all North Carolina counties and municipalities annually. We prepare these estimates by first beginning with the last official US census count,” State Demographer Michael Cline explained.  

According to the US Census Bureau’s current schedule, the first 2020 census population counts for municipalities and counties will be reported by August 16, 2021. From this 2020 census starting point, the Demographer will add or subtract populations using models that incorporate trends in indicators that are correlated with population change (such as school enrollment, vehicle registrations, building permit activity, births, deaths, etc.) to estimate the population of counties and municipalities.

The Demographer will publish the July 1, 2020, population estimates at the end of September. These population estimates will include estimates for counties, municipalities, unincorporated populations within counties, and portions of municipalities that are located within more than one county. 

The population estimates published this September will be the first set of population estimates prepared for local communities using information from the 2020 Census. The US Census Bureau’s 2020 Census population estimates used the 2010 Census as a starting point and are considered “evaluation estimates” to be used to evaluate how well the US Census Bureau’s models estimated populations of cities and counties during the previous decade so that they can improve their estimation models for estimating populations from now until 2030.

In addition to the certified population estimates,  the State Demographer produces standard population estimates – which use the July 1, 2020, municipal boundaries and intercensal population estimates for municipalities and counties. These estimates allow users to see annual trends in population change from 2010 through 2020. The State Demographer also produces state and county population projections that use the latest estimates and assumptions about changes in births and deaths to forecast the population for the state and counties from now until 2050.

Additional Information

Access the latest updates at  Population & Demographics | NC OSBM on our website.

For more information about the state demographer and population estimates, you can contact Michael Cline at