By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY
The quest for affordable housing and jobs is driving Americans from expensive coastal states to more moderately priced parts of the country, according to an analysis of Census population estimates out Thursday.
Halfway through the decade, people continue to leave states such as New York and California and spill into parts of the Southwest, Southeast and Rocky Mountains. (Related: State population estimates)
In the 12 months ending July 1, Florida gained more people (404,434) than any other state for the first time in at least 15 years. Despite four hurricanes that hit the state last year, Florida added an average 1,100 people a day, bringing its population to almost 18 million. If that pace continues, Florida will overtake New York as the third-most-populous state by 2010.
Other highlights in the data:
�New York lost people for the first time since 1980. "New York state's losses were masked in the boom of New York City and its suburbs in the '90s," says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "Once they slow down, even slightly, the decline Upstate becomes very apparent."
�California was not the top gainer for the first time since 1995. Most of the state's net gain of 290,109 came from births. The data show that 239,417 more people left California for other parts of the USA than moved in.
"It's a symptom of the new divide in housing costs between the expensive, congested, urbanized states such as California and New York and newly sprawling suburban states on both coasts," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "This whole half of the decade, housing has been an issue. ... The question is: Will it continue?"
�Largely because of strong job growth, Virginia gained more people (86,133) than the nine Northeastern states combined (59,880).
Population shifts ultimately have political consequences because seats in the House of Representatives are reallocated after the full Census every 10 years. Based on the latest estimates, five states would lose a seat, according to Kim Brace, president of Election Data Services, a Washington consulting company.
Texas and four other states would gain a seat. Texas could gain a second seat because Louisiana is likely to lose one once hundreds of thousands of residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina are reflected in Census counts, Brace says. Many evacuees moved to Texas.
The U.S. population's growth rate has slowed slightly since record growth in the 1990s. As of July 1, the population was at 296.4 million, but it may hit 300 million in 2007.
"The decade began with the economy off track, but the population boom kept rolling along and is on track to nearly match the record 1990s," Lang says. "The country found places to keep booming, shying away from the high-cost coasts and seeking the South and the mountain West."