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Census Biggest Rise Ever

WASHINGTON, April 2 The nation's population increased by more people in the 1990's than any other 10-year period in United States history, surpassing the growth between 1950 and 1960 at the peak of the baby boom, the Census Bureau reported today.

Even as many other industrial countries are suffering declining populations because of shrinking birth rates, the United States swelled by 32.7 million people in the last decade, to 281.4 million, the result of waves of young immigrants with families and a steady birth rate that outpaced deaths. The increase, which was greater than the country's population total during the Civil War, easily surpassed the previous record growth of 28 million in the 1950's.

The growth in the 1990's was notable for not only its size, but also its breadth. For the first time in the 20th century, the population of all 50 states increased, ranging from a half-percent rise in North Dakota to 66 percent in Nevada. Eighty percent of the nation's 3,141 counties and equivalent areas grew, compared with 55 percent in the 1980's.

Among the intriguing trends emerging from the 2000 head count was the convergence of two major demographic patterns. Sprawl from metropolitan areas accelerated through the 1990's to where it spilled into once rural areas, stemming decades-long population declines in many nonmetropolitan counties.

The two fastest-growing nonmetropolitan counties in the 1990's were both in Colorado: Elbert County, a farming area in the plains near Denver; and Park County, a cattle-grazing region nestled in the Rockies. Both counties more than doubled in size between 1990 and 2000.

"A lot of growth in nonmetropolitan areas in the last decade has come in counties that adjoin metropolitan areas, and is changing the character of those counties," said Calvin L. Beale, a senior demographer at the Agriculture Department who has analyzed population shifts in nonmetropolitan counties.

The nation grew faster and in more corners of the country than the Census Bureau projected. The number of people in metropolitan areas grew by 14 percent in the last decade, narrowly exceeding nonmetropolitan counties, which grew by 10 percent. Four of five Americans still live in cities or suburbs.

Eight of the 10 largest cities gained population in the 1990's, with only Philadelphia and Detroit shrinking. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago remained the top three metropolises. But in a sign of the Sunbelt's pull on Americans and immigrants, Houston, Phoenix and San Diego were three of the next four largest cities. Despite its population loss, Philadelphia still ranks fifth, behind Houston and ahead of Phoenix.

As a result, the population center of the country, as calculated by the Census Bureau, moved to Edgar Springs, Mo., nearly 40 miles southwest of DeSoto, Mo., the population midpoint 10 years ago. The population center is determined as the place where an imaginary, flat, weightless map of the country would balance perfectly if all 281.4 million Americans were of identical weight.

The West grew by 19.7 percent and the South by 17.3 percent, compared with only 7.9 percent in the Midwest and 5.5 percent in the Northeast. These patterns revived states like Wyoming and Colorado that lost people in the 1980's with the downturn in the mining and energy industries.

Large swaths of the rural heartland continued to hollow out, from the Dakotas to western Texas, but the number of counties that dropped by 10 percent or more in some cases was far fewer than in the 1980's.

Moreover, several other Midwestern states experienced their fastest growth in decades. Missouri's 9 percent increase was the state's largest decade-to-decade lift since the period from 1890 to 1900. The Ozarks have attracted retirees and families moving out of cities who seek a better quality of life, Mr. Beale said.

The nation's middle-sized cities, ranging from 250,000 to slightly fewer than 2 million people, outpaced growth for the smallest and very largest cities. Again, much of this growth centered in the West, with Californians, in particular, heading not just to Phoenix and Denver but also Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and western Colorado, said Marc J. Perry, a Census Bureau demographer.

John Long, chief of the Census Bureau's population division, said today that early data showed younger, non-Hispanic whites moving to urban areas, many seeking jobs and homes in the cities.

One prominent expert, Hugh B. Price, president of the Urban League, said that the reduction in city crime, coupled with quality housing and cultural diversity, had drawn many young white professionals back to urban settings that reminded them of their college years.

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