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Census: More Of Us Than Ever
State Population Continues Growth, Exceeds 3.5 Million

December 22, 2004
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

Connecticut's population topped 3.5 million people for the first time in 2004, with the state adding nearly as many people during the past four years as it added during the entire 1990s, the U.S. Census Bureau is reporting today.

Relative to the previous three years, Connecticut's growth slowed this past year, but the state still added more people than any of its New England neighbors and more even than much larger New York state, according to the new population estimates.

The nearly 100,000 people that the Census Bureau estimates that Connecticut added between 2000 and 2004 is only 18,000 below the state's population growth between 1990 and 2000, when Connecticut was one of the nation's slowest growing states.

During the first three years of the decade, between July 2000 and July 2003, the state added more than 20,000 people each year. The Census Bureau said that growth moderated during the past year, as Connecticut added roughly 16,600 people, a 0.5 percent gain, between July 2003 and July 2004.

That population growth compared to 14,600 people in New York and 4,500 in Rhode Island. Massachusetts lost about 4,000 people, making it the only state to suffer a population decline last year, according to the estimates.

"Connecticut doesn't look like the rest of New England," said Orlando Rodriguez, a demographic researcher at the Center for Population Research at the University of Connecticut. "It's not. It's more like New Jersey."

Connecticut's gains, however, were a fraction of those in the fastest growing states; Nevada added about 92,000 people in the past year, growing by 4.1 percent, the fastest percentage growth in the nation.

Connecticut's population gains are being driven by the strong growth among Latinos and Asians, who together are accounting for much of the state's growth, census estimates released earlier this year show. Their gains are likely a combination of people migrating to Connecticut from abroad and from other states, particularly the New York City area, as well as births in Connecticut, experts say.

"Connecticut seems to be geographically a good place [for Asians] because it is close to New York," said Angela Rola, director of the Asian-American Cultural Center at UConn.

Aspects of that growth include the migration of ethnic Chinese to southeastern Connecticut casino jobs; Asian Indians drawn to Hartford County by medical and high-tech jobs, and Filipinos being attracted by health care jobs and the military, Rola said.

Less clear within the state's new population total was the meaning - and perhaps the accuracy - of the new federal estimates.

In general, a growing population is good news for a state's economy, reflecting the perception that there is economic opportunity in the places attracting people, and fueling economic growth. But the census estimates, which show solid population growth during the same years that the state is down 54,000 jobs, also raise a thorny question:

"We can't have a declining labor force and a growing population. Generally, those two wouldn't go together," said Ron Van Winkle, a West Hartford economist.

Van Winkle said that during the 1990s, the Census Bureau's population estimates - a statistical model based on births, deaths and migration data - turned out to be lower than the actual population the agency counted in the 2000 Census. Most economic data, he said, suggest the bureau's estimates could be off the mark again, this time in the opposite direction.

"Most of the things you look at suggest a population that is more stable, with small growth in it, rather than one that would suggest robust growth," Van Winkle said.

With the oldest of the Baby Boomers approaching retirement, whatever population growth Connecticut is enjoying now may not last, said Edward J. Deak, an economics professor at Fairfield University.

"I just don't see a lot of reason for Connecticut even to be in the middle of the pack [among states] in terms of population growth," Deak said.

By percentage, New Hampshire remained the fastest growing New England state, adding about 11,000 people last year, a 0.8 percent jump - many of them apparently former Massachusetts residents, experts said.

Migration to neighboring New Hampshire and Rhode Island is one cause of the population loss in Massachusetts, said Steve Coelen, the former director of the Massachusetts Institute for Social & Economic Research.

Officials in northeastern Connecticut also say they have noted an influx of people from Greater Boston seeking lower housing prices south of the border.

That migration, along with a slow economy and the tightening of visa restrictions after 9/11 that may make it tougher for foreign students to enroll in Massachusetts universities, are all driving the Bay State's population drop, Coelen said.

"It's not a surprise," Coelen said of the census estimates.

Rodriguez, the UConn population researcher, said Connecticut is more like New Jersey than other New England states because it has cities such as Hartford with intense poverty, and because of the more diverse ethnic and immigrant mix of two more-urbanized states.

One worrisome fact the Center for Population Research uncovered in its analysis of the 2000 Census was that much of Connecticut's population growth was coming in poorer "urban periphery" towns such as Manchester and East Hartford.

If that growth among poor people has continued in the current decade, it's not good news, Rodriguez said.

"People may say that [population growth] means we're growing economically," he said. "Not necessarily. It could be a bad indicator."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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