By adding 472 residents in 2019, Philadelphia narrowly escaped its first population decline in years, new Census population estimates show.
More than 10,000 people moved out of the city last year, but that loss was offset by 5,363 more births than deaths and 5,649 immigrants moving to the City of Brotherly Love. The city’s population rose to 1,584,064, its smallest annual population growth in a decade.
The Pennsylvania suburbs had a strong showing in attracting new residents in 2019, according to the Census. Montgomery County led the way with a population increase of nearly 4,000, followed by Chester County with 2,903, and Delaware County with 1,516. The South Jersey suburbs had much smaller increases: Burlington County added 604 residents, Camden and Gloucester Counties just more than 100 each.
The estimates are derived from a yearly comparison of births, deaths, and migration since 2010, and the calculations are factored into federal funding programs. Next year’s decennial census will rely instead on questionnaires that are arriving in mailboxes this month.
Philadelphia’s growth has been slowing in recent years — from a surge of 12,000 added residents in 2011 to between 3,000 and 4,000 in each of the last three years. But the 2019 numbers may point to a population decrease in the future.
“It is a striking trend after a period of high growth in the early part of the decade,” said Ben Gruswitz, manager of socioeconomic and land use analytics at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Gruswitz cautioned that preliminary population numbers tend to change. For example, the 2018 estimates released last year had pegged Philadelphia’s population increase at close to 4,000, but the Census Bureau has since adjusted that figure to just under 3,000.
“It’s definitely a different trend this year even than what it was last year,” he said of Philadelphia’s break-even numbers.
Gruswitz said one possibility for the slow growth in Philadelphia is that after the Great Recession, millennials flocked to Philadelphia and other urban areas looking for job opportunities. Now many of those millennials are marrying and having children and perhaps looking at better school options in the suburbs.
Another reason could be city-like options in the suburbs. Gruswitz said multi-family housing developments have sprouted all over the suburbs, enabling people to walk to the grocery store and other places.
In all, the eight-county region, home to nearly 5.4 million people, grew by more than 10,000 people who came from other countries in 2019, the Census estimates. Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Burlington Counties also benefited from increases in people moving from other areas of the U.S.
Since 2010, the Philadelphia region has grown by 113,439 people, far slower than counties in Texas, Florida, and California.
“We’re still a slower-growth region,” Gruswitz said. “None of the counties are growing as fast as they used to.”
As for long-term predictions, Gruswitz said it could all change drastically given the coronavirus and likely recession to come. There may be a baby boom, but there may also be a shift in how people live.
People shifted toward density in the last decade, but that might reverse course and people may want more single-family homes and be “better positioned to quarantine,” Gruswitz said.