Fracking and Retirees Drive U.S. Population Growth

A crude oil drill rig in the distance of a single-family home under construction in Williston, North Dakota Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Welcome to 21st-century America, in which population growth trends are driven by baby boomers packing into Florida retirement enclaves and workers chasing the fracking boom from North Dakota to Texas.

That’s the quick sketch, at least, that comes out of new population data from the U.S. Census, which track growth between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. The Villages, a collection of central Florida retirement communities northwest of Orlando, topped the charts as the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan area, with a 5.2 percent gain. That far outpaced the U.S. average of 0.7 percent growth. Midland and Odessa, in western Texas, followed at 3.3 percent each. Both cities have seen an employment boom in recent years amid new techniques to extract oil and natural gas.

Half the top 10 fastest-growing metro areas, in fact, have the energy industry to thank for all the newcomers, and the largest city growth occurred in Houston, a sort of energy capital that has managed to lure 138,000 people over the past year. The shale oil boom in North Dakota and elsewhere has produced even more dramatic growth for what the Census calls “micropolitan statistical areas,” in which 10,000 to 49,999 people live. The top-growing micropolitan area was Williston, N.D., at 10.7 percent, followed by Dickinson, N.D. The Bakken Shale formation has boosted the state’s oil output to nearly 1 million barrels per day.

The boom has also made Williston the most expensive town in America in which to rent an apartment, with a one-bedroom topping $2,000 per month. The population in Williston has doubled since 2010, to more than 30,000 residents. Other quick-growing micropolitans in 2013 due to gas and oil: Andrews, Texas, north of Odessa; Minot, N.D.; Weatherford, Okla.; and Hobbs, N.M.

Here are the 10 fastest-growing metro areas in the 2012-13 period:

1. The Villages, Fla.—5.2%
2. Odessa, Texas—3.3%
3. Midland, Texas—3.3%
4. Fargo, N.D.-Minn.—3.1%
5. Bismarck, N.D.—3.1%
6. Casper, Wyo.—2.9%
7. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.-N.C.—2.7%
8. Austin-Round Rock, Texas—2.6%
9. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, Ala.—2.6%
10. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.—2.5%

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