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SALT LAKE CITY — Census estimates released Tuesday show Utah's population was roughly 4,000 people short of the 3 million mark on July 1 this year.
The estimates support what state leaders celebrated in October as a milestone for Utah, which went from having 2 million to 3 million residents in 20 years.
The state's growth rate has been steadily declining since the Great Recession, and births are making up a smaller portion of the state's growth. But that may change as an economic recovery continues, according to Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
"Births have been going down since 2008, and that's national, too," Perlich said. "I'd look for births to begin to rebound in Utah again sometime soon, partly because people who have deferred having children because of the difficult economic times are beginning to form households."
Utah gained an estimated 51,421 residents between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 70 percent of the growth was natural increase — births minus deaths — while roughly 18 percent came from domestic migration and 12 percent from international migration.
This year's estimates show natural increase as accounting for a smaller portion of Utah's population growth. In the past five years, natural increase accounted for 81 percent of Utah's population growth. Domestic migration accounted for up 6 percent and international migration made up about 13 percent.
Utah's growth is still among the fastest in the nation. While the size of the state's population ranked 31st overall, Utah had the 14th largest population change and the seventh-fastest growth rate as a percentage of the state's population, according to Census estimates.
Utah's growth rate ranking is down from fifth place over the past five years and was outpaced this year by North Dakota, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Nevada, Florida and Texas.
But Perlich said birth rates and migration to the state will likely climb again as the Great Recession gets smaller in the rear-view mirror for many states. The number of deaths will also increase in the coming years as the baby boom population ages.
"Some of that pre-Great Recession migration momentum may be re-establishing itself," she said. "It's good to see positive net in-migration to the state, and these levels of migration indicate that the recovery is underway. Things are improving."
Across the US
The U.S. as a whole gained about 2.5 million residents between July 2014 and July 2015. Just over 54 percent of that was natural increase, with the rest coming from international migration. On July 1 this year, the U.S. had an estimated 321.4 million residents.