Arizonans moving to the 'burbs
PHOENIX — The suburbs are where the action — and the growth — is.
New figures Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the areas just outside the state's major cities grew far faster than the long-established communities they surround. In fact, if the trend continues, they could overwhelm them.
Consider the case of Prescott Valley. The area was not even a city until 1978.
As of last April 1, when the government did its official decennial count, there were there are 38,822 people living there, 60 percent more than at the time of the 2000 census.
By contrast, Prescott, one of Arizona's first cities, exceeds its rapidly growing suburb now by barely more than 1,000.
In the southern part of the state, Sahuarita, incorporated in 1994, has ballooned in the last decade by a factor of close to six, to 25,259.
And Tucson? It managed less than a 7 percent growth in the entire decade, with its official population now at 520,116.
The pattern also shows that the farther out you go from the central cities, the faster the growth.
In the East Valley area of Maricopa County, Chandler, for example, grew by about a third. Gilbert shot up by 83 percent. And Queen Creek ballooned from 4,400 in 2000 to more than 26,000 now.
That is not surprising as there is more available land.
But there may be limits in how far people whose jobs still are likely in the major cities are willing to drive: Florence, further down the road from those East Valley cities, managed to grow by only 47 percent during that same period.
The numbers amount to more than just boasting rights.
Economist Tom Rex of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University pointed out that cities and counties get federal and state aid based on their size. And he noted that the final census numbers, for most communities, are far less than had been anticipated.
One surprise in the numbers that the state's Hispanic population is far below what had been anticipated.
As far back as 2007 the Census Bureau was estimating that Hispanics made up 29.6 percent of the state. And the growth rate of that segment of the population was close to three times that of other groups.
But the figures released Thursday show that the actual count as of last April was that same 29.6 percent.
Rex said there is evidence that perhaps 250,000 Hispanics, including illegal immigrants, have left the state in the last few years.
Part of that, he said, is the economy. But Rex said part of that is linked to the series of new laws and proposals specifically aimed at those who entered the country illegally, laws that do not exist elsewhere.
“If you're sitting in Mexico wanting to go to the United States for work, waiting for the economy to change, would you even remotely consider Arizona?'' he said. “I would consider all 49 other states before Arizona.''
Looking at the population by race, the figures show that more Arizonans are refusing to put themselves into a single category.
While the percentage who say they are of two or more races is still small — just 3.4 percent — that is up by 49 percent from the same time a decade earlier.
A total of 73 percent of Arizonans list themselves as being white alone. Another 4.6 percent said they are American Indian, 4.1 percent are blacks, 2.8 percent Asians and 11.9 percent said on their census forms they were some other race.
The new figures have political implications.
Arizona is made up of 30 legislative districts all of which are supposed to be relatively equal population. But the data shows there have been major changes since those lines were drawn in 2000.
Looking at county-by-county figures, those new lines are likely to mean more legislative representation for the residents of Maricopa and Pinal counties, both of which grew far faster than the statewide average. Northwest Arizona also showed fast growth in Mohave and Yavapai counties.
The loser in all of this could be southern Arizona, with Pima County's decade-over-decade growth just 16.2 percent. And Greenlee County actually lost population.
Less clear is how the growth patterns will affect congressional representation.
The statewide numbers announced last December were large enough to entitle Arizona to a ninth member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here, too, the requirement of the Independent Redistricting Commission is to craft districts with equal population.
Given the rapid growth in Maricopa and Pinal counties, it is likely that new district will be carved out of existing districts there. But that, then, will force changes in the lines for what remains to meet that population requirement.
A decade ago the redistricting commission managed to draw a map that virtually assured there would be two members of Congress from the Tucson area. But given the below-average growth in the area — and the huge population gains elsewhere — it may be impossible to draw two congressional districts that each have a center of population in or around Tucson.
Census numbers released last December said there were 6,392,017 people living in Arizona last April 1. That does not include another 20,683 people who are considered Arizona residents but living overseas.
That final statewide tally also showed that the annual estimates done by the federal government overstated the population increase.