Is Snowbird Flight Costing New York New Yorkers?

The Census estimates out last week showed double-digit percentage growth in the South and the West since 2000. But in the Northeast–and in the Midwest–population growth was paltry.

The population of the Northeastern United States increased only 2 percent from April 1, 2000 through July 1, 2007. In the Midwest, the increase was 3.1 percent. (In the U.S. entirely, it was 7.2 percent.)

Part of the reason for the sluggish growth in the Northeast, as The New York Times noted last week, was higher housing prices. But, one has to ask, what about the Midwest, where housing prices are lower than in faster-growing places like Florida and California? Though it might be tempting for West Coasters to explain the downward population trends in the Midwest and Northeast as an aversion to cold weather, the two regions have more in common than chilly climates.

States in the Midwest and the Northeast have the largest portion of citizens over 65, according to 2005 data from the Census Bureau. But, according to a 2006 study from the Brookings Institute on America’s regional demographics in the 00’s, it’s the migration of these senior citizens to the West and the Southeast that’s driving population growth in those regions. The recent Census figures are less an indicator of the housing market than of America’s growing population of snowbirds.

Seniors comprise over 13 percent of the populations in both Rhode Island and Michigan (the only states whose populations declined between mid-2006 and mid-2007), as well as in Connecticut, Montana, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Missouri. Though the portion of seniors in so-called "rust-belt" states has risen over the past eight years, the pace has been slower than in Western and Southeastern portions of the country, according to Census data analyzed in the Brookings Institute study.

By 2010, the over-65 populations of Alaska and Nevada (which was ranked No. 1 for population growth in the U.S. between July 2006 and July 2007) are expected to increase by 50 percent, followed by Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Virginia. Census projections indicate a 25 percent growth in the senior populations of Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina. Between 1990 and 2005, the over 65 population of Las Vegas grew by 156 percent, followed by Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C. Meanwhile, six of the 15 districts listed in the Brookings’ study with the slowest projected senior population growth rates were in Ohio, along with towns in Illinois and the Northeast.

The population of 55- to 60-year-olds nationwide is expected to have grown by 50 percent between 2000 and 2010, so the migration trend will surely accelerate as Western and Southern states continue to woo baby boomers entering retirement.