WASHINGTON — Many states that posted big population gains in the 2010 census are now seeing their decade-long growth fizzle, hurt by a prolonged economic slump that is stretching into larger portions of the South and West.
New 2011 estimates released Wednesday by the Census Bureau are the first state numbers since the 2010 count, which found the nation's population growth shifting to the Sun Belt.
As a whole, the U.S. population grew by 2.8 million, reaching 311.6 million people. That growth of 0.92 percent was the lowest since the mid 1940s, hurt by fewer births and less immigration after the recent recession. From 2000 to 2010, the government previously reported the nation grew 9.7 percent, the lowest since the Great Depression.
"The nation's overall growth rate is now at its lowest point since before the baby boom," said Census Bureau director Robert Groves.
Washington, D.C., grew faster than any state in the nation, climbing by 2.7 percent from April 2010 to July of this year. Texas was next-fastest growing.
States that prospered during the real estate boom, such as Arizona, Nevada and Florida, were showing a drop in growth when their populations were officially counted a year ago.
"Record low migration has continued to put a damper on what looked to be a Sun Belt growth explosion just five years ago," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, who reviewed the numbers. "States that seemed immune from the housing bust are now experiencing declining population growth as employment opportunities in a variety of industries contract, and as mortgages seem nearly impossible to obtain."
But experts say the worst may be over for Florida. From 2007 to 2009, Florida had more people move out than move in for the first time since the early 1970s; the latest estimates now show some rebound in population growth.