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Census Bureau Report Documents Rapid Expansion of Gulf Coast Population in Recent Decades

     Between 1960 and 2008, the population in coastline counties along the Gulf of Mexico soared by 150 percent, more than double the rate of increase of the nation's population as a whole. On the eve of hurricane season, this area now is home to nearly 14 million residents, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report issued today.

     The report, Coastline Population Trends in the United States: 1960 to 2008, [PDF] examines population trends along the country's saltwater edges — coastline counties — and their shares of coastline states during the period. Specifically, it analyzes trends in the growth and decline, geographic distribution and density of the coastline population. It also incorporates historical data on the trajectories of hurricanes striking the U.S. coastlines to gauge the coastline population's experience with hurricanes.

    The Gulf Coast's population growth over the period surpassed that of coastline counties along the Pacific (110 percent) and Atlantic (56 percent). The region has experienced double-digit rates of population increase each decade since 1960. The Gulf Coast was home to six of the eight U.S. coastline counties with the fastest population increases over the 48-year period, led by Collier County, Fla., which grew by 1,900 percent (from 15,753 to 315,258). At the same time, the region contained six of the 11 coastline counties most frequently hit by hurricanes during that time, with Monroe County, Fla., leading the list with 15, and Lafourche Parish, La., tied for second with 14.

    “Coastline counties along the Atlantic and Gulf, as well as the Hawaiian Islands, account for nearly two-thirds of the nation's coastline population and are home to four of the nation's 10 most populous counties,” said Steven Wilson of the Census Bureau's Population Division, who co-authored the report. “As hurricane season begins, this report should put into perspective the number of Americans living along the coast who might be affected.”

    All in all, 87 million people, or 29 percent of the U.S. population, live in coastline counties, including more than 41 million in Atlantic and 32 million in Pacific counties. In 1960, only 47 million lived in coastline counties.

     Other highlights include:

  • The number of housing units along the Gulf of Mexico's coastline increased by 246 percent from 1960 to 2008, compared with 130 percent in the Pacific and 98 percent in the Atlantic coastline regions and 121 percent for the U.S. as a whole. The number of housing units along the U.S. coastline grew from 16 million to 36 million during this time.
  • On average, the 11 coastline counties that were hit by 11 or more hurricanes from 1960 to 2008 increased in population by nearly 179 percent and had a housing unit increase of 255 percent. Among these counties, only Hyde, N.C., lost population (-10.1 percent) and only St. Bernard Parish, La., lost housing units (-2.6 percent).
  • The coastline share of Maine's total population climbed by 9 percentage points from 1960 to 2008. New Hampshire, Virginia and Alaska also had increases of more than 5 percentage points. In contrast, the share of Maryland's population in its coastline counties dropped 14 percentage points and California's by 10 points.
  • Excluding Alaska, the average density of coastline counties increased from 260 people per square mile in 1960 to 480 in 2008. On average, they are twice as densely populated as noncoastline counties. Among the coastline states, only the coastline sections of New York (between 1970 and 1980), Louisiana (from 1980 to 1990 and 2000 to 2008) and Mississippi (from 2000 to 2008) had declines in population density during any decade.
  • New York County (Manhattan), N.Y., is the most densely populated coastline county, with nearly 72,000 people per square mile in 2008. Between 1960 and 2008, Orange County, Calif., and Pinellas County, Fla., joined the list of the 20 most densely populated coastline counties, with Orleans Parish, La., and Westchester County, N.Y., dropping off.
  • Nearly half of the nation's coastline population in 2008 was in either California (29 percent) or Florida (16 percent).
  • Most coastline counties (223 of 254) experienced population gains from 1960 to 2008, including all counties from the southern coast of North Carolina through Mississippi, and all counties from California through Washington.
The report uses 100 percent-count decennial census data for the years 1960 through 2000, estimates of the total population for July 1, 2008, and the demographic components of change for 2000 to 2008.
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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | | Last Revised: September 09, 2014