Atlanta - I-85 near the Spaghetti Junction is clogged with cars during rush hour on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta metro population on pace to pass Philadelphia as 8th largest

Metro Atlanta, which has repeatedly outgrown other large American metro areas in recent years, is on pace to overtake Philadelphia as the United States’ eighth-largest by 2022, according to U.S. Census data.

Atlanta’s 2017 growth rate of 1.5 percent, higher than eight of the top ten American metro areas, is reflective of the region’s blossoming economy and increasing job prospects. In total, 89,000 new residents moved to the region in 2017.

“Atlanta has been a pretty rapidly expanding economy for a long period of time,” said Tom Cunningham, Chief Economist for the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

As a metro area, Atlanta has consistently outperformed the national job growth rate for years, Cunningham said. The Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area employed 2.7 million people in April of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase of 1.5 percent compared to 2017.

Metro Atlanta’s total population stands at 5.8 million, while the Philadelphia metro area boasts a population of 6.1 million. Both remain far behind the New York area, which holds the No. 1 spot with a population of 20.3 million.

The Atlanta MSA consists of 29 counties surrounding Georgia’s largest city. As job growth in this region has continued at a steady pace, population growth has followed, with job opportunities serving as a “magnet,” Cunningham said, bringing more people to Atlanta.

As Atlanta grows at a rate far above other top American metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, its surging populace is putting stress on its transportation infrastructure and housing market.

In the face of this growth, the City of Atlanta and the region is looking to continued to ramp up investment in transportation infrastructure, Mike Alexander, Director of the Center for Livable Communities at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said.

Specifically, Alexander pointed to the recent decision by the state to spend $100 million for transit buses as proof Atlanta is taking transportation expansion seriously.

At the same time, the median sale prices of homes in the area jumped nearly 10 percent between May of 2017 and this past May, according to Atlanta Realtors, the largest realtor association in the state. This is partially driven by a falling number of available homes in the region, said Atlanta Realtors President Bill Murray.

Specifically, homes in more popular price ranges have been hard to come by, putting many prospective home buyers in Atlanta in apartments, Murray said. Still, Murray believes the housing market in the metro area is not on pace to slow.

“With great job growth and affordability and housing appreciation… ultimately people are going to come to Atlanta and they’re going to buy a house,” Murray said.

In addition to outpacing top metropolitan areas in overall population growth, Atlanta is one of America’s leading cities in the growth of the population of individuals between 20 and 29 years of age, census data shows. This speaks to the Atlanta area’s growing walkability, Murray said, as walkable areas such as the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, Avalon in Alpharetta and downtown Woodstock are becoming more popular.

The census data also shows the region’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, as Atlanta saw a 2.5 percent increase in its black population, a 4.5 growth in the Asian population and a 7.8 percent increase in its Hispanic population, while the white population has grown 0.6 percent.

Multiple metro counties have seen increases in their non-white populations. The most drastic change occurred in Henry County, which is now majority non-white. As recently as 2016, over 50 percent of Henry County’s population was white.

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