Metro Atlanta’s population grows as residents seek jobs, amenities

Top 10 metro areas by population

1. New York: 20,182,305

2. Los Angeles: 13,340,068

3. Chicago: 9,551,031

4. Dallas-Fort Worth: 7,102,796

5. Houston: 6,656,947

6. Washington: 6,097,684

7. Philadelphia: 6,069,875

8. Miami: 6,012,331

9. Atlanta: 5,710,795

10. Boston: 4,774,321

Source: U.S. Census 2015 estimates

Why population matters

Metro Atlanta’s growth indicates that people want to live in the area, said Mike Carnathan, manager of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Research and Analytics Division.

People move to areas where they can find quality jobs, enjoy convenient amenities and afford the cost of living. But more people also leads to increased traffic.

“There’s upsides and downsides to population growth,” Carnathan said. “It means more challenges on the roadways and with the services we provide, but it also means an infusion of talent and a healthy life-cycle of metro areas.”

Drawn by job opportunities, a reasonable cost of living and warm weather, hundreds of thousands of people moved to metro Atlanta in the last five years, increasing the region's population to 5.7 million, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Of the 424,000 residents added since 2010, more than half moved here, while the rest of the 8 percent population boom was driven by births greatly outpacing deaths. The region remained the nation's ninth-largest metropolitan area.

Last year, the region's growth was third highest of any area in the country, trailing only Houston and Dallas. Metro Atlanta, which the Census defines as stretching from the Alabama border to the outskirts of Athens, expanded by more than 95,000 people from 2014 to 2015.

The numbers highlight the appeal of living in the Atlanta area, said Mike Carnathan, the manager of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Research and Analytics Division.

“Metro Atlanta has a lot going for it,” Carnathan said. “What it shows you is that metropolitan Atlanta is a desirable place to move to, whether for jobs or the climate, amenities or location.”

Particularly jobs, said Lakshmi Pandley, a senior research associate for Georgia State University's Fiscal Research Center.

“Migration to Atlanta was pretty much minimal during the recession because people didn’t think there were jobs, but after the recession, it has gone up.”

Within the region, the core counties gained the most residents.

Fulton became Georgia's first county to cross the 1-million-resident mark last year, but Gwinnett has added slightly more people — about 90,500 — since 2010, an 11 percent increase. Gwinnett's total population was nearly 896,000 in 2015, and a recent forecast indicated it's expected to pass Fulton by 2040.

“We’re seeing much more urban revitalization and growth in the central metro counties,” said Matt Hauer, the head of the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute’s Applied Demography Program. “There’s a limit to the sprawl, and you’ll see much more rebound in the urban areas.”

But other suburbs have been growing as well, in some cases quicker than their urban neighbors.

Forsyth County was the 11th-fastest growing county nationwide from 2010 to 2015, increasing its population by 21 percent to more than 212,000 residents.

The Atlanta area has gained a reputation as an ever-changing international city, with attractions that impress visitors and market the city to businesses, said William Pate, the CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In recent years, the city has added the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Georgia Aquarium and the College Football Hall of Fame. Soon, it will have two new pro team stadiums to accompany ongoing residential and business development.

“It’s very vibrant, and that’s what people are looking for,” Pate said. “Companies are interested in moving here, and younger people as they leave college are moving here.”

Nationwide, cities in the southern United States experienced the largest population increases last year, said Yesenia Acosta, a statistician for the U.S. Census. Seven of the 10 metro areas that gained the most new residents were in southern states.