WASHINGTON — All across the United States, residential suburbs that sprouted on the edge of metropolitan areas are seeing their growth fizzle, according to new 2011 census estimates released Thursday.
The annual rate of growth in American cities and surrounding urban areas has now surpassed that of the so-called exurbs for the first time in at least 20 years, spanning the era of sprawling suburban development.
Economists believe the effects of an exurban bust will be long term.
"The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us," Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller said. Shiller, co-creator of a Standard & Poor's housing index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it burst in 2006-07. Examining the current market, he believes America is at a turning point, shifting away from faraway suburbs to cities amid persistently high gasoline prices.
Demographic changes also play a role: They include young singles increasingly delaying marriage and children, and thus more apt to rent, and a graying population that in its golden years may prefer closer-in, walkable urban centers.
About 10.6 million Americans reside in the nation's exurbs, just 5 percent of the number in large metropolitan areas. That number for exurbs represents annual growth of just 0.4 percent from 2010 to 2011, smaller than the 0.8 percent rate for cities and their surrounding urban areas. Still, it also represents the largest one-year growth drop for exurbs in at least 20 years.
By comparison, in 2006 exurban communities grew at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, compared with a population loss of 0.2 percent for inner cities.
The latest census data come amid an overall U.S. growth rate in 2011 of 0.9 percent, the lowest since the mid-1940s, due to fewer births and less immigration following the recent recession.