Georgia is by all accounts a growing state. But like an awkward teenager, this growth is not evenly distributed. While the aggregate population of Georgia’s cities increased by more than 20% over the last 10 years (compared to about 10% for the entire state), a closer look at the data shows some divergent —and familiar—patterns.
“Population growth in metro counties, in both incorporated and unincorporated areas, far outstripped incorporated and unincorporated areas in micropolitan and rural areas” in the last decade, said Jim Skinner, senior principal planner for the Atlanta Regional Commission. And there are stark differences even within metro counties, as the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area alone accounted for 79% of the state’s growth.
2010-2019 Percent Change in Population in Georgia:
- Metropolitan: 11.1%
- Micropolitan: 2.5%
- Rural: 0.4%
Why is this growth happening, and what is the outlook for Georgia’s cities?
Even though the domestic migration rate is at an all-time low, Georgia is ranked sixth in the country (and one of five southern states in the top 10) for absolute population gains between 2010 and 2020, according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis. In other words, those Americans who are moving are heading south and, to a lesser extent, west. This group includes many African Americans from cities in the Northeast and Midwest in a reversal of the Great Migration. Georgia also continues to attract immigrants. Based on American Community Survey data, the share of foreign-born persons in the state was 10.3% in 2019, up from 9.7% in 2010. Population projections by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget show a consistent upward trend as well: Georgia could have 11 million residents as early as 2023 and may reach 12 million by 2031.
There have been numerous alarming or alarmist reports on the decline of cities whose amenities and density are perceived as liabilities rather than attractions during the ongoing pandemic. A study by the Cleveland Federal Reserve calculated net out-migration flows from urban neighborhoods in the past year, but these findings do not apply to any large city or MSA in Georgia. As a second caveat, this research can only show that people who would have moved into an urban neighborhood in a typical year were unwilling or unable to do so in 2020. Given the increasingly likely scenario that our lives return to normal, we will soon know whether we witnessed a hiccup or a more significant disturbance in the evolution of Georgia’s cities.
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.