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U.S. Had Biggest Growth Ever In '90s

The United States experienced the biggest population increase in its history during the 1990s, the Census Bureau reported Monday, as explosive growth in cities of the South and West helped counter declines in the Plains and across the Rust Belt.

New York and Los Angeles still have the two biggest cores of population. Good climate and jobs helped Las Vegas; McAllen, Texas; and Boise, Idaho to be among the top metropolitan areas in growth rates.

Las Vegas again was the No. 1 metro area in growth, according to the report Monday by the Census Bureau.

Growth in cities brought new challenges to city officials dealing with more sprawl and an influx of immigrants arriving to take low-wage jobs. The report also renewed attention on isolated counties in America's heartland trying to reverse declining populations and economies.

"These are areas that have suffered declines over the years, where young people have been moving from," said University of Michigan demographer William Frey. "Young people want to go where the action is, where the new jobs are."

Over 281 million people called America home in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, an increase of 13 percent, or nearly 33 million, from 1990. The 33 million surpassed the previous 10-year growth record of 28 million between 1950 and 1960, a gain fueled primarily by the post-World War II baby boom.

Much of the gain in 2000 was due to higher-than-expected rates of immigration, especially among Hispanic immigrants who helped fill low-wage job openings in small towns in the Midwest and South.

By region, the West had the highest population increase over the decade at 20 percent, followed by the South with 17 percent, the Midwest with 8 percent, and Northeast, which grew 6 percent.

Because of the continued movement of people west and south, the bureau also announced Monday that the U.S. population is now centered in Phelps County, Mo., at a point three miles east of Edgar Springs. That is approximately 12 miles south and 32 miles west of the 1990 population center near Steelville, Mo.

Minorities were still concentrated in the nation's biggest metropolitan areas, accounting for much of the growth there, the Census Bureau said.

The New York metropolitan area, which sprawls across Long Island, New Jersey, and slivers of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, increased 8 percent over the decade to 21.2 million. It was followed in size by the Los Angeles and Chicago metropolitan areas.

New York City also maintained the title of America's largest city, going over the 8 million mark in population in 2000. Again, the city was followed by Los Angeles and Chicago.

Metropolitan areas in the South and West experienced the biggest percentage increases, led by an 83 percent surge in the Las Vegas metro area. Growth there was fueled in part by a mega-resort construction boom that drew more workers and, in turn, more service-oriented businesses.

The warm climate is a great attractioas well, said Loretta Stevens, who runs an apartment-search service in Las Vegas.

"There's sunshine most of the time here and you can do anything you want 24 hours a day," said Stevens, who moved there from Denver 13 years ago.

Three Texas metro areas were among the top-10 fastest growing. Two of them—McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, and Laredo—are on the U.S.-Mexico border. The third—Austin -San Marcos is within an economically booming central Texas corridor that includes Dallas.

While immigration played an important role in the population surges in all three areas, a large part of the increase also was due to domestic migration and rising birth rates, said Steve Murdock, chief demographer at the Texas State Data Center.

Retirees also boosted population in some of America's top-growing metropolitan areas, such as Naples, Fla., which saw a 65 percent increase over the decade.

"We didn't know five years ago when we opened how our business was going to take off," said Yvonne Lubin, owner of Chic Rustique, a furniture store in downtown Naples.

All states saw a population increase, despite pockets of the Plains and the interior Northeast that saw declines. Philadelphia and Detroit were down as well.

Still, in most of those areas, declines were less than previously forecast, or were not as steep as in the 1980s, Census Bureau analyst Paul Mackun said.

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