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Population vs Economic Growth

When looking at urban economics in the context of the national economy it is sometimes hard to gauge economic growth versus simply population growth. Generally, the two outcomes seem to have a positive relationship. In a study using data from the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Economic Analysis looking at over 350 U.S. metros from 2001 to 2011 it was found that there is very minimal no connection between the two. Only about 19% of the areas tested experienced both productivity growth, in terms of GDP per capita, and population growth. In comparing the two maps below you can see the differences between population and economic growth across the country. The highest recorded population growth is in Palm Coast, FL with a 6.08% increase. While Corvallis, OR has the highest GDP growth rate at 8.99%.

These findings are consistent with the findings of economist Paul Gottlieb who found in his paper, “Growth Without Growth: An Alternative Economic Development Goal For Metropolitan Areas” and his theory of dividing areas into “population magnets” and “wealth builders”. Generally when an industry is thriving that means more jobs and thus more people wanting to live in the area. Often times single industries dictate the prosperity of a city such as Detroit and the car industry. However, Gottlieb shows the difference between areas that are population magnets but do not have thriving industries and the wealth builders that may have thriving industries but not the great population change. It is very important to look at these two factors in terms of unemployment in certain areas so that we can better understand the idea of spatial mismatch and how to best build our economy to create jobs in the areas that they are needed.




  1. Interesting. Florida and Arizona certainly attract “snowbirds”, are there ways to factor that out, or should we want to include retirement havens?

  2. Stephen Moore Stephen Moore

    The correlation between the two maps are very interesting. It is interesting to see lower average annual productivity in places with higher average annual population growth. Although population growth is probably more difficult in more densely populated areas like the Northeast.

  3. HeeJu HeeJu

    I think it is definitely also important to observe the composition of growing population in each state. For instance, Florida may have the highest population growth rate, but
    I presume most of the new residents are recent retirees who ceased to be productive and thus contribute little to the economic growth of state.

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