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How population totals in the Philly suburbs have changed since 2020

Overall, the eight-county Philadelphia region lost 0.2% of its population between 2020 and 2023. But that modest decline was not felt equally.

The Philadelphia skyline is reflected in the water of the Cooper River at sunset in South Jersey in 2022. Between 2020 and 2023, the combined population in the adjoining South Jersey suburbs of Cherry Hill, Evesham, and Mount Laurel increased by more than 6,100.
The Philadelphia skyline is reflected in the water of the Cooper River at sunset in South Jersey in 2022. Between 2020 and 2023, the combined population in the adjoining South Jersey suburbs of Cherry Hill, Evesham, and Mount Laurel increased by more than 6,100.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

If you build it in Philadelphia’s suburbs, they will come, researchers say the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate.

Overall, the eight-county Philadelphia region lost 0.2% of its population between 2020 and 2023 as the pandemic and the rise of remote jobs altered the way many people work, commute, and live, putting the region’s total at 5,496,558 residents.

But that modest decline was not felt equally: The combined population in the adjoining South Jersey suburbs of Cherry Hill, Evesham, and Mount Laurel increased by more than 6,100, while Lower Bucks County and southeastern Delaware County saw among the steepest drops.

A driving factor behind those shifts, planning experts suggest: the development of multifamily housing.

From townhouses to condo developments and apartment complexes, more than half of all housing unit approvals in the Philadelphia region since 2014 have been for multifamily development projects, creating thousands of new units — and with them, thousands of people moving in — according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

That, too, experts noted, is perhaps complicated by a housing market that has crunched suburban supply and priced out would-be first-time homebuyers, as well as older people increasingly seeking rentals.

“To a large extent, we’re a pretty built-out region, we’re very mature,” said Brett Fusco, associate director of comprehensive planning at the DVRPC. “There’s not a lot of new land to go and build housing on. Growth is going to have to be about growing up, and that’s going to have to happen not just in the city, but increasingly in the suburbs.”

In deciding where to live in Philadelphia’s suburbs, experts said people also place a premium on being able to access Center City and public transportation, and prioritize their proximity to other walkable downtowns, their workplaces, and — though fewer households have children now than ever before — the quality of the schools. The pandemic, too, Fusco said, is still shaping some population movement.

But, he added, it’s important to remember the census estimates, which track births, deaths, and the flow of residents moving into or out of an area, don’t always tell the full story.

“It doesn’t take into account housing construction, and that seems to be what leads to a lot of population movement,” Fusco said. “If you’re going to move somewhere, there’s got to be a house or apartment or something, somewhere where you can live.”

With that in mind, here’s a look at how Philly’s suburban population numbers shifted since 2020.

Lower Bucks and southeastern Delaware County lost some population

Countywide, population totals in Bucks and Delaware Counties since 2020 have remained fairly steady. By the end of the three-year span, Bucks’ population fell by 0.1% — losing 544 residents — while Delco’s decreased by 116.

But the southern parts of both counties saw larger dips. The southern third of Bucks County lost around 1,500 residents, while southeastern Delaware County’s population dropped by more than 1,700 — excluding the city of Chester, which grew by nearly 1,000 people despite filing for bankruptcy in 2022.

While those shifts could “definitely be cyclical” as populations naturally ebb and flow, cautioned Greg Diebold, a DVRPC planning data analyst, Fusco also noted that Bucks and Delaware Counties had some of the fewest new multifamily housing units built over the last five years. Lower Bucks, Diebold added, may be looking at a potential population rebound, as a large Amazon fulfillment center establishes in Bensalem, and several multifamily housing projects in Middletown Township and near Yardley are underway for the first time in decades, bringing hundreds of new units to the county.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Garomon, the president of the Bucks County Association of Realtors who’s worked in the county for 33 years, pointed to a long-standing issue in her region: “There isn’t a whole lot of construction going on.”

The demand for housing is there, Garomon said, but the inventory isn’t. Home prices in Levittown, for example, she said, jumped by nearly 26% between 2020 and 2023, according to Bright MLS. In that same period, Garomon said, the number of homes sold decreased by 29%.

“People have been staying put,” Garomon said. “And even with the interest rates having gone up, a lot of homeowners are saying, ‘OK, I’ll get a top dollar for my house. But where do I go?’”

» READ MORE: Houses in the Philly suburbs are still in high demand, but developers aren’t building there

Up against a housing market with high prices and low supply that has squeezed many would-be first-time millennial home buyers, renters under 35 are overrepresented in multifamily units in Philadelphia’s suburbs, according to the DVRPC.

In Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties, according to Redfin, first-time homebuyers in 2023 needed to earn $82,161 to afford a starter home — roughly 20% more than they needed to make the previous year to buy a property priced in the bottom third of real estate listings. In Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, the typical household needs to make $73,182, slightly higher than the median household income of $72,933.

A growing pocket of South Jersey

Across the Delaware River, South Jersey’s population numbers saw a slight overall boost, with census estimates tallying 17,000 new residents in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties.

Roughly a third of that was attributable to the wealthier triad of Cherry Hill, Mount Laurel, and neighboring Evesham, where population collectively increased by around 6,100 people.

In Cherry Hill, Diebold pointed to luxury apartment developments along the Cooper River and the sprawling mixed-use complex at the former Garden State Park Race Track site near the Cherry Hill Mall, among the largest of its kind in the Philadelphia region.

“Both of those were redevelopment areas that went from having zero residents to thousands of residents,” Diebold said, noting that the areas that saw the largest increases are situated near suburban employment centers in Camden and Mount Laurel. Population in Mount Laurel, once a rural farming community in Burlington County, increased by more than 1,700, while Camden lost 675 residents.

Much of the Main Line continued to grow

While most towns in the cluster of historic Main Line suburbs continued to increase in population between 2020 and 2023, no area saw a larger number of new residents than Montgomery County’s Upper Merion Township, which added more than 2,000 people.

And planning experts suggest it was the development of new multifamily housing — with Montgomery and Chester Counties experiencing some of the region’s highest levels of development over the last several years — that brought those population changes to the affluent enclave tracing the Pennsylvania Railroad route.

Diebold pointed to the development of the sprawling, 132-acre mixed-use Village at Valley Forge in King of Prussia as a potential population catalyst, where thousands of new multifamily units, and more than a million square feet in commercial and retail space have opened.

Like in most big cities during the pandemic, Philadelphia’s population declined between 2020 and 2023 to 1,550,542, a 3% drop the city hadn’t seen since the 1970s.

But experts have cautioned against sounding the alarm just yet, noting that Philly’s population decline slowed in 2023, and that the city has seen significant economic and employment growth in recent years — a sign a rebound from the so-called “urban doom loop” of pandemic-era big city exodus is likely.

» READ MORE: Philly is still the 6th-biggest U.S. city, but San Antonio is catching up

”Philadelphia hasn’t necessarily reversed yet in the census, but it has slowed in population [decline],” Fusco said. “And certainly, there’s not as many large cities around the country that are losing population as they were during the peak of the pandemic.”

An aging population and changing desires

The Philadelphia region is also growing older, experts noted, with a median age of 44 in Bucks County. And if trends continue, without an influx of migration to the area, they said population numbers in the suburbs could peak within the next 20 years.

Nationally, the birth rate has dropped, reaching a historic low in 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Death rates, Fusco said, are declining, too, but not at the same pace.

“The Northeast in general, and our region in general, has higher than the national average in terms of median age,” Diebold said. “So it’s definitely a big factor for our region, particularly, to think about.”

And as the region ages, Philadelphia suburban real estate agents said it’s not just young people flocking to multifamily housing. Empty nesters and people over 55 are opting to live in townhomes, condos, and apartments, more, too.

“I’ve had more people go and rent for a little while because they’re not sure where they want to end up, but they feel as though it’s a good time to sell their home,” said Suzanne Kunda, a real estate agent for more than 20 years in Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, and Delaware Counties.

Others see renting as an increasingly attractive option, often with more available amenities and less lawn and home maintenance, real estate agents said. The easier the property is to take care of, the more desirable it is, said Kunda — and that’s where she sees more people moving.

“It’s come to a place where things are just different. People before looked at rentals as a temporary bank,” Garomon said. “I think life has just gotten more hectic for people, young and old, you know?”