Author: Michael Cline, North Carolina State Demographer
The official population estimates for counties and municipalities are now available. These population estimates were produced by the State Demographer in the Office of State Budget and Management and are used for analysis and planning. In addition, these estimates help inform the population projections that will be published by the end of this year. A few trends of note:
County Population Growth Recovers
North Carolina’s population growth continues in all parts of the state – in contrast to what occurred during the 2010s. In the previous decade, most North Carolina counties lost population (51 of 100) and almost half of the state’s population growth occurred in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties alone. Sixty-five counties added population between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022 and 78 counties added population between July 1, 2021 and July 1, 2022. While Wake (41,938) and Mecklenburg (27,908) Counties added the most people since 2020, they accounted for only about one quarter (26.3%) of North Carolina’s overall population growth. Another 26.3% of the population was added in five counties: Johnston (17,617), Brunswick (15,821), Cabarrus (12,792), Union (12,547), and Iredell (11,187) Counties. Johnston County is a suburban county to Raleigh; Cabarrus, Iredell, and Union Counties are suburban counties to Charlotte, and Brunswick County is a suburban county to Wilmington but is also a major retirement destination.
Top 7 Counties Accounted for 53% of Overall Growth Between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022
Municipal Population Change
North Carolina continues to urbanize. By July 1, 2022, 6.2 million or 58 percent of all North Carolinians lived in a municipality. Mecklenburg County was the most urbanized as measured by the percentage of the population living in a municipality (93.9%) and Currituck was the least urbanized (where there are no municipalities).
Most municipalities experienced population growth since April 1, 2020. Of the 551 active municipalities, only 157 or 29% lost population between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022. Generally, the municipalities that experienced significant population growth were among the largest municipalities in 2020, were suburban communities of the largest cities, or were major destinations for retirees and others seeking an outdoor recreational lifestyle. Charlotte (20,287), Durham (9,432), and Raleigh (8,578), added the most people since April 1, 2020 while the fastest growing municipalities of 1,000 or more were Troutman (24.5% growth or 911), Youngsville (22.0% or 444), and Leland (20.4% or 4,768).
Municipal Population Change, April 1, 2020 – July 1, 2022 by Municipal Population Size in 2020
|Municipality Size||Number||Avg. Size||Avg. Change||Avg. % Change||W/Loss||% Loss|
|25,000 - 49,999||21||35,033||1,525||4.6%||1||4.8%|
Municipalities can add population through annexation – either by directly annexing an already populated area or developing housing in newly annexed areas. Cary (+1,406), Greenville (+1,050), Garner (+861), and Hendersonville (+841), have added the most people in areas annexed since January 1, 2020.
Where to go for more
The official population estimates are available on the OSBM website and available on our open data platform. The municipal population estimates include the certified and standard estimates. The only difference between the certified and standard estimates are the municipal boundaries used. The certified estimates use the July 1, 2023 municipal boundary while the standard estimates use the boundary in place as of July 1, 2022. The standard estimates include revisions to previous annual population estimates and thus should be used for most purposes. The certified estimates are used as a basis for the distribution of some state tax dollars to local municipalities and counties.
OSBM’s population estimates differ from those produced by the US Census Bureau due to differences in input data and estimation models. OSBM utilizes more up-to-date indicator data than those used by the US Census Bureau. See Counts, Estimates, and Projections, Oh My! | NC OSBM for more information about the differences between our estimates, US Census Bureau estimates, census counts, and population projections.