Metro Atlanta population hits new high water mark

March 31, 2017 - Atlanta - Aerial view of Bulkhead Skyline. The downtown skyline is visible in the background. Aerial photos shot March 31, 2017. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Chris Joyner

Credit: Chris Joyner

March 31, 2017 - Atlanta - Aerial view of Bulkhead Skyline. The downtown skyline is visible in the background. Aerial photos shot March 31, 2017. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Metro Atlanta added 66,730 residents between April 2022 and April 2023, boosting the region’s population to a record 5.16 million, according to estimates released Wednesday.

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) said the fastest growth rates occurred in the city of Atlanta (2.8%), Cherokee County (2.5%) along with Forsyth and Henry counties (2.1%). ARC officials said the population increase in the 11-county region is fueled by ongoing strong employment growth.

Jobs in the region have increased 5.4% since the pandemic began in 2020, ARC officials said.

The ARC also said metro Atlanta has the fifth highest employment base in the nation, trailing only Austin and Dallas in Texas; Las Vegas; and Orlando, Fla.

“Job growth drives population growth,” said Mike Carnathan, the ARC’s managing director of research and analytics. “Metro Atlanta has been one of the (nation’s) leaders in job recovery since the pandemic. This robust job growth creates an environment ripe for population growth.”

The city of Atlanta added 14,300 residents in the past year, nearly three times the previous 12-month period. The city’s previous record increase occurred in 2018-19, with 10,900 new residents.

Carnathan credits Atlanta’s population growth to an explosion in building permits, which roughly tripled during 2022-23. He said both multifamily and single-family permits increased — nearly 12,000 permits were issued in the last year. Gwinnett County had the second-largest number of building permits, with 5,400.

The most recent Census is the starting point for each successive year’s estimates by the ARC, which continue to build on each other between decennial Census counts.

The ARC population estimates for major jurisdictions are developed using a combination of data sources, including a demographic accounting equation generated by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia, school enrollment trends, occupancy rates, and building permit data.

That said, Carnathan noted that multifamily construction timelines are usually longer, so just because 2022-23 saw an increase in permits doesn’t mean it will immediately translate to population growth. The ARC sees the rise in building permits as more of a foundation for future growth, Carnathan said, adding that “a lot of that is going to be deferred until we do our population estimates for next year.”

“If you look at the city of Atlanta, you have lots and lots of large-scale, public-private investments,” Carnathan said, listing off the Beltline and development in Grove Park and downtown, among other places. “The city of Atlanta is reinvesting in itself big time. And that’s going to translate into population growth.”

Aside from the city of Atlanta, each of the 11 counties saw population increases in the past year.

Fulton, the region’s biggest county, added 18,500 residents, the largest numeric increase in the region. Gwinnett grew by 13,510; Cherokee by 7,120; and Cobb by 6,100. Overall, metro Atlanta has averaged adding 68,245 new residents per year in the 2010s, so the ARC’s recent numbers show a slightly less than average growth.

Regardless, the region’s population increase of 66,730 new residents between April 2022 and April 2023 is higher than its previous record of 64,940 new residents from 2021-2022.

Carnathan said the housing market plays a major role on the pace of the region’s growth, as well.

“Housing demand is very high — and prices as a result are very high — which does act as a brake on population growth,” Carnathan said. “Single-family permits remain constrained, balanced by historically high multifamily permitting levels.”

State law requires the ARC to annually estimate Metro Atlanta’s population for the purpose of collecting dues from its member jurisdictions. More details about ARC’s population estimates are available online on ARC’s website.