August 08, 2018

America’s coastline counties — those directly adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, or Gulf of Mexico — were home to about 94 million people in 2016, or about 29 percent of the total U.S. population.

Just over two months into the 2018 hurricane season, it’s important to look at the growing number of people who live in the path of potentially destructive storms.

Recent decades have seen costly and damaging hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. However, these areas have also continued to experience population growth.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 population estimates show that coastline counties contain some of the country’s largest centers of population and economic activity.

Recent decades have seen costly and damaging hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. However, these areas have also continued to experience population growth. Their combined population increased from 51.9 million in 2000 to 59.6 million in 2016.

With the exception of 2005 to 2006, a year marked by an intense hurricane season that included three of the costliest hurricanes on record (Katrina, Rita and Wilma), the population in Atlantic and Gulf Coast counties grew every year from 2000 to 2016.

Growth Along the Gulf of Mexico

The population of coastline counties in the Gulf of Mexico region increased by more than 3 million people, or 24.5 percent between 2000 and 2016, the fastest growth among coastline regions. By comparison, the United States as a whole grew by 14.8 percent over the same period.

Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston, accounted for a noteworthy share of the Gulf of Mexico region’s growth. It added about 1.2 million people over the period, a 35 percent increase since 2000 and the largest numeric gain of any county in the country.

Construction Boom

The Gulf Coast’s high rate of population growth, along with post-hurricane rebuilding efforts, have contributed to a robust construction industry.

According to the American Community Survey 2012-2016 5-year estimates, about 8.4 percent of the area’s workforce was employed in construction industries, a higher rate than the other coastline regions (6.2 percent in the Atlantic region and 5.8 percent in the Pacific region) and the United States as a whole (6.3 percent).

Similarly, the Gulf of Mexico had a higher percentage of its workforce employed in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (10.8 percent), compared to the other coastline regions (7.8 percent in the Atlantic region and 8.0 percent in the Pacific region) and to the United States as a whole (8.9 percent).

Coastline More Diverse, Older

Estimates of county characteristics for 2016 showed that coastline counties were more ethnically and racially diverse than the United States as a whole.

While non-Hispanic whites made up more than 61 percent of the U.S. population, less than half (48.5 percent) of the coastline county population was non-Hispanic white alone in 2016.

The Pacific was the most diverse of the coastline regions with 58.4 percent of its population identifying their race/ethnicity as other than non-Hispanic white alone.

Finally, coastline counties in aggregate had a higher proportion of their population ages 25 to 54 compared to the United States as a whole. Conversely, the United States had a higher proportion of its population under age 25 – a noteworthy finding as the U.S. population and its workforce continue to age.

By Darryl T. Cohen is a geographer in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division.

 

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