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December 26, 2022

Pennsylvania's population falls as Americans migrate to the South

The Northeast saw the largest losses among any region. New Jersey had a slight decline

Government Census
Pennsylvania Population Decline Trev Adams/

Philadelphia went from 1,600,684 residents in July 2020 to 1,550,542 last year — a more than 3% drop in population —according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Pennsylvania's population fell by about 40,000 residents between July 2021 and July 2022, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That decline was the nation's fourth largest behind New York, California and Illinois.

Pennsylvania's population dropped from 13 million to 12.97 million — a decrease of about 0.3% — in that timeframe. But in terms of overall population, the state still ranks fifth behind California, Texas, Florida and New York. 

New Jersey's population saw a minimal decline of about 6,252 people — a decrease of 0.1%.

Texas saw the most population growth, rising from 29.56 million people to 30.01 – a 1.6% increase. Texas joined California as the only states with more than 30 million residents. California's population fell 0.3% to 39.01 million residents, the 10th largest percentage decline in the U.S. 

Florida had the largest percentage increase at 1.9%, climbing to 22.24 million residents. Pennsylvania's percentage decline ranked eighth. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia's population had been growing, but Pennsylvania's largest city shed 27,546 residents between April 2020 and July 2021, according to previous Census numbers. That decline of 1.7% brought the city's population to 1.58 million people in July 2021. The Census Bureau has not yet provided estimates for the city in 2022. 

During that same period, smaller declines also were recorded in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Reading and Erie, the next largest cities in Pennsylvania. Among areas of the state that grew, Chester and Montgomery counties saw the biggest increases between April 2020 and July 2021. Pike County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, saw the fastest rate of growth due to people leaving New York and New Jersey. 

The latest Census numbers show the U.S. population rose by 0.4% between July 2021 and July 2022. The increase of 1.27 million people brought the total population to 333.39 million. That marked a rebound from the historically low rate of change seen between 2020 and 2021. 

"There was a sizeable uptick in population growth last year compared to the prior year's historically low increase," said Kristie Wilder, a demographer in the population division at the Census Bureau. "A rebound in net international migration, coupled with the largest year-over-year increase in total births since 2007, is behind this increase."

Net international migration, which refers to the number of people moving in and out of the country, increased the U.S. population by 1.01 million between 2021 and 2022. That's a 168.8% increase over the 376,029 people added between 2020 and 2021. The Census Bureau said this indicates migration patterns are returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Natural population change between 2021 and 2022 — the total number of births minus deaths — increased by 245,080 people. That the growth came as the U.S. contended with a declining birth rate and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regionally, the South is the most populous, largest-gaining and fastest-growing area of the U.S. It increased by 1.1% to 128.72 million. The West was the only other region to see population growth, increasing by 0.2% to 78.74 million.

The population of the Northeast fell 0.4% to 57.04 million, a loss of 218,851 people. The Midwest's population declined 0.1% to 68.79 million, a loss of 48,910. These declines were attributed to negative net domestic migration.

Overall, 18 states saw population declines in 2022, up from 15 states and Washington, D.C. the previous year.