The Census Bureau released the Vintage 2021 population estimates by county last week. These estimates show a July 1, 2021 population of 3,025,891 for the state of Arkansas. This is an increase of 14,367 persons, or 0.5%, since the 2020 Census. The population increase within the state is higher than the nation at 0.1% and ranks 17th among the 50 states.
From July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, forty counties in the state gained population. Benton, Madison, Izard, and Sharp Counties saw the highest percentage growth within the state. All four counties increased in population by at least 2.0%. In terms of numeric growth, Benton (7,339) and Washington (3,395) Counties topped the list.
Conversely, the other thirty-four counties experienced a population loss. Phillips, Arkansas, Dallas, Desha, Lafayette, and Mississippi Counties all declined in population by at least 2.0%. The counties losing the most people were Pulaski (-1,252), Jefferson (-950), and Mississippi (-842).
To see what is driving the population increases and declines, two factors need to be considered: natural change and migration.
Natural change is calculated by subtracting the number of deaths from the number of births for a given geography from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. If this number is positive it is referred to as natural increase, meaning that more people were born than those that died. The opposite, when more people die than are born, is called natural decrease.
Migration can be broken down into domestic migration within the U.S. and international migration. If this number is positive then more people moved into the given county than moved out of it from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021.
The vast majority of the counties in Arkansas (64 of 75) experienced a natural decrease. This is a trend that occurred across the country where over two-thirds of all the counties saw more deaths than births. The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on the mortality rate, which combined with an aging population contributed to the natural decrease. Garland (-627) and Baxter (-539) Counties had the largest natural decreases in the state. Conversely, Benton (1,083) and Washington (940) Counties led the counties who experienced a natural increase.
Forty-five counties saw more people moving into than out of the county, and experienced a positive net migration. The largest positive net migration was in Benton (6,301) and Washington (2,423) Counties, and the counties with largest negative net migration were Pulaski (-1,625), Mississippi (-828), and Jefferson (-762).
Digging into the natural change and net migration for the counties that experienced a population loss will help explain what is driving the loss. Of those thirty-four counties, twenty-six of them had both a negative net migration and a natural decrease. Three counties (Pulaski, Crittenden, and St. Francis) experienced a natural increase, but a negative net migration. That means that the decline in population can be attributed by people moving out of the county. On the contrary, five counties (Van Buren, Columbia, Clark, Perry, and Little River) had more people moving into the county than out, but experienced a population loss because of natural decrease.