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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Population growth vs economic growth

Chart by Pete Saunders

Chart by Pete Saunders

Aaron Renn on the newly-released census data:

Last week the Census Bureau released 2013 population estimates for counties and metro areas. There are three main takeaways I saw: 1) the increasing dominance of large metro areas 2) the continued move to the Sunbelt and 3) deceleration of the exurbanization rate.


The continued regional population shift to the South, and to a somewhat lesser extent the West, was well-highlighted by Wendell Cox. This isn’t popular in urban circles, but just as with the above, we have to start with actual reality. There was some view that the Great Recession would pop a Sunbelt bubble, but it doesn’t seem to have happened. Even a place with no heritage as a business center like Phoenix is growing again.

I'm no fan of how Wendell Cox distorts data to support his agenda, but Renn is correct here that urbanists should not be afraid of looking at reality. I'm also not surprised by the trend lines, since population shifts tend to take place over decade-long periods instead of a few years. As long as we have reliable air conditioning, for example, the Sunbelt will continue to thrive. Given the choice between long, hot summers and the snow and ice of winter, people have been voting with their feet for quite some time to choose heat. Here's hoping that more and more Sunbelt cities can grow up to become more walkable, sociable places.

Pete Saunders brings some thought-provoking data to take down the notion that we focus far too much on population data and not enough on pure economic data.

Between 1970 and 2010, the U.S. population grew by 51 percent, from 203 million to 307 million.  The gross domestic product (GDP), in constant 2000 dollars, grew 210 percent, from $4.7 trillion to $14.6 trillion.  Not bad.  During that same time, Germany's economy grew just 124 percent, from $929 billion to $2.1 trillion.  But Germany's population, much smaller than the U.S., grew only five percent over the same period, from 78 million to 82 million.

Here's another way of looking at it.  The U.S. economy is reliant on population growth for economic growth, while German economy is not.  Witness this table of ratio of GDP to population growth for both nations:

     GDP to Population Ratio, 1970-2010

     Germany  24.151

     USA  4.096

Yes, Germany's economy grew 24 times faster than its population, while the U.S. economy grew only 4 times faster than its population.

He goes into more detail in the piece, which I found to be a fascinating and spot-on look at how our Growth Ponzi Scheme, as Chuck Marohn describes it, dominates our economic discourse.

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