Cities are making a comeback. The United States 2010 Census data show that 83.7 percent of residents live in the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas, which have urban cores with populations over 50,000. These areas are growing as people move closer to jobs and as a result of rising gas prices and the housing bust.

“Jobs are the number one reason people come to a place or leave it. People vote with their feet,” says Qian Cai, director of demographics and workforce at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Tracing its origins to the Bureau of Public Administration—created at the University in 1931—the Weldon Cooper Center’s mission is “to anticipate and forecast change and to serve as a resource to those who need to recognize and address that change.”

The U.S. population in 2010 was 308.7 million, an increase of 27.3 million since 2000. Of the nation’s most populous metropolitan areas:

  • Houston, Atlanta, and Dallas-Forth Worth saw the most growth, which means they experienced the largest increases in population; 1.2 million more people live in Houston in 2010 than in 2000.
  • Las Vegas, Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., saw the fastest growth, which means their populations had some of the biggest percentage changes; Las Vegas grew 41.8 percent in the last 10 years.
  • New York and Los Angeles remain the most populous metropolitan areas, with approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population.
  • In the past decade, Detroit lost a remarkable 25 percent of its population, and Michigan was the only state in which net population decreased, in large part due to challenges faced by the auto industry.

The population is also becoming increasingly diverse. In 2010, more than 50 million respondents identified themselves as Hispanic, and more than 9 million checked two or more race boxes (up 32 percent from 2000). More people are marrying outside of their race, with one in seven new marriages considered interracial or interethnic, suggesting an increase in social cohesion between races as the population diversifies.


“Virginia is very representative of the nation in terms of the growth trend and patterns,” says Cai. With a growth rate of 13 percent (slightly above the nation’s 9.7 percent), Virginia’s growth has been concentrated in its urban areas, particularly in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads. One-third of the state’s population is in Northern Virginia, which benefits from its proximity to Washington, D.C. Relative prosperity in Northern Virginia was bolstered during the economic downturn because federal spending didn’t suffer as much as other parts of the economy, so the area continues to have jobs and contract work opportunities. Richmond City population increased 3.2 percent since 2000, its first growth since 1970. The state’s population is also becoming more diverse. “Virginia is no longer the Old Dominion,” says Cai. “Hispanic population almost doubled in 10 years, and Asian population grew nearly 70 percent.”

For the 2010 Census, everyone filled out a ten-question short form. The long form of the census—which provided data on detailed socioeconomic and housing characteristics, such as language, education, income, and commuting—was replaced by the American Communities Survey (ACS), conducted by the Census Bureau on an annual basis.

Census data is used to redraw political districts based on population and race makeup. Data from the 2010 Census will be used for 2012 elections. UVA may use census and ACS data for outreach and planning. The data is helpful in recruiting a more diverse student body. Programs like UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, with academic centers around the state, can use the data to address local needs, and the nursing school looks at demographics to plan for services they will offer.