Utah is the nation’s fastest-growing state this decade

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Southbound traffic on I-15 approaching Pleasant Grove on Wednesday Aug. 28, 2019.

Utah grew faster than any other state this decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in late December.

The agency reported that Utah’s population this year is 3,205,958 — up 16% in the decade, from 2,763,891 in 2010.

That increase of 442,000 people is roughly the equivalent of adding the combined populations of the state’s three biggest cities: Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Provo.

[Read The Tribune’s explainer on how the state changed this decade, which includes everything from its diversifying population to air quality]

The next-fastest growing states were Texas, 15.3%; Colorado, 14.5%; and Florida, 14.2%. (Of note, the District of Columbia grew faster than Utah at 17.3%, but it is not a state).

Four states saw their populations decrease in the past 10 years: West Virginia, down 3.3%; Illinois, off 1.24%; Vermont, down 0.28%; and Connecticut, off 0.25%.

“The economy is really the story here as we just keep generating jobs and bringing people to the state,” said Pam Perlich, senior demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. For example, the state matched its lowest unemployment rate ever in November.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Perlich also noted that Utah usually leads the nation — and did again this past year — in “natural increase,” or the number of births minus deaths.

In fact, Utah’s birthrate in 2019 was the highest in the nation (15.3 per 1,000 people) and its death rate was the lowest (5.5 per 1,000).

That comes even though Utah’s fertility rate has been plunging over the past decade, and recently dropped for the first time below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 births per woman in her lifetime needed to exactly replace the population over time.

“Birthrates have been falling everywhere pretty much since 2008” when the Great Recession hit, Perlich said. But the decrease was a bit slower in Utah.

“And deaths have been increasing everywhere because of the aging of the population,” she said. But in Utah, that was again a bit slower because its median age is low, so a greater percentage of its population is young.

Amid such factors, Perlich noted that Utah’s growth has been decelerating a bit recently.

While it was No. 1 in growth for the decade, it was No. 4 for growth in 2019. Its growth rate was 1.66% for the year, behind Idaho (2.09%), Nevada (1.74%) and Arizona (1.69%).

The rate of people migrating to the state tied for No. 11 despite its strong economy.

Utah is now the nation’s 30th most populous state, moving up from No. 34 a decade ago — passing Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi and Kansas.

The census numbers differ a bit from Utah’s own population estimate prepared by the Gardner Institute, which uses different methods. The state estimate is about 14,000 people higher.

Federal estimates use such sources as tax and Medicare data plus phone surveys for their numbers. The state also uses such data as school enrollment, building permits and membership numbers for the state’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both use birth and death records.

“We're so far from the last actual census that to be this close in our estimates is just really a validation of both of our different approaches,” Perlich said.

She adds that it also shows the importance of the next once-a-decade census — which begins in March — to get accurate counts as a basis of planning, federal grants and more.

“It’s a big deal,” she said. “You see how it becomes the base for the whole next decade’s estimates. So, we’re very anxious that that’s an accurate and full count of our people.”

The latest census data suggests that Utah is far from qualifying for an additional U.S. House seat after next year’s enumeration — but might qualify for another one after the 2030 count.

Current estimates show that an average House seat after the next census would represent about 753,000 residents. Utah’s current population of 3.2 million easily allows the state four House districts, but would be roughly 324,000 people short of qualifying for a fifth.

Given Utah’s growth this past decade, making such gains compared with other states could be possible in the next 10 years.