Population Changes in the Commonwealth Since the 2020 Census

by James C. Sherlock

The Bureau of the Census has issued its estimates of the population changes in Virginia and its 133 jurisdictions since the 2020 census.

They are always of interest, but perhaps more so since 2020-2022 spanned the COVID years.

The categories of change calculated by the Census Bureau are total change, natural change (births minus deaths) and migration. They provided the raw numbers.

In the attached spreadsheet, I let Excel calculate the percentages, which I find more meaningful. Some are surprising given that it was only a two-year period, but perhaps not, since it spanned the COVID years.

We’ll examine them.

Cumulative population changes. The Commonwealth added 52,235 people, almost 28,000 in natural change and the rest in net migration. Beneath those totals lie some more dramatic changes.

Though the net natural change was positive, almost three times as many jurisdictions lost population through natural change as gained. That speaks to young people leaving many of them.

The biggest natural gains were in Northern Virginia.

In net migration,

  • almost 30,000 domestic residents left the state.
  • almost 53,000 international residents arrived.

In raw numbers, Fairfax County was the biggest net loser of population at almost -12,000. Then Norfolk, Arlington County, Alexandria and Virginia Beach in order lost between 5,000 and nearly 4,000 people.

We will look at additional data behind those numbers that show dramatic changes in some jurisdictions.

Net losers and gainers. The biggest losers by percentage of 2020 population: Emporia and Buchanan County both (-4.9%), Bath County (-3.7%), Northampton County (-3.1%), Manassas Park City (-3.0%), Dickenson County (-2.9%) and Charlottesville, Allegheny County and Alexandria, all -2.5%.

Charlottesville and Alexandria surprise me a little. Alexandria lost almost 3,500 people. Charlottesville nearly 1,200 (not including the statues). The rest unfortunately do not surprise.

The biggest gainers: New Kent County (8.9%), Louisa County (6.7%), Goochland County (5.6%), Orange County (5%), Spotsylvania County (4.7%), Suffolk City (4.5%), and King George County (4.3%).

New Kent County has been growing for years, but 9% — more than 2,000 people — in two years is pretty explosive.

Louisa County is attracting new residents to settle near its back-to-nature rural cooperatives. It must be Lake Anna.

Natural change. Births exceeded deaths among Virginia residents by almost 28,000.

Net Migration. Migration was responsible for a net gain to Virginia of about 23,000 people.

But that included a net gain of nearly 53,000 from international migration and a net loss of about 30,000 from domestic migration.

The biggest percentage losers to net migration were Alexandria (-4.4%), Charlottesville (-3.7%), Arlington County (-3.2%), Manassas Park (-3%), Norfolk (-2.9%) and Harrisonburg (-2.9%).

Biggest net migration percentage winners were, in order from the highest, New Kent County, Louisa County, Goochland County, Northumberland County, Middlesex County, Orange County, Isle of Wight County, Highland County, James City County, Powhatan County, Spotsylvania County, and Clark County.

All were above +4%

Domestic Migration. The biggest percentage losers to net domestic migration were, starting with the biggest losses, Alexandria (-6.1%), Charlottesville (-4.7%), Arlington County (-4.7%), Manassas Park (-4.3%), Harrisonburg (-3.8%), Fairfax County (-3.6%), and Norfolk (-3.5%).

In two years.

International Migration. From the Census Bureau:

Net international migration for the United States includes the international migration of both U.S.-born and non-U.S.-born populations.

Specifically, it includes: (a) the net international migration of the non-U.S. born, (b) the net migration of U.S. born to and from the United States, (c) the net migration between the United States and Puerto Rico, and (d) the net movement of the Armed Forces population between the United States and overseas.

Among Virginia jurisdictions, none had more than five net international departures.

Net international arrival gains by percentage of 2020 population were led by Fairfax City at +2.1%. Ten more jurisdictions, mostly urban, had at least 1% gains from international arrivals.

Fairfax County population increased +1.4% from international net arrivals. But, being Fairfax County, that was more than 16,000 people.

Demographic changes. We can compare domestic and international arrivals and departures as a proxy to get from population changes to demographic changes from the data available.

Some interesting outcomes from those proxies:

Gainers without international migration gains.

  • New Kent County +8.7% domestic, none international.
  • Northumberland County gained +6.6% from domestic migration, nothing from international migration.
  • Highland County +4.4 % domestic, none international.
  • Powhatan County +4.3% domestic and none international.
  • Clarke County +4.1% and none.

Biggest demographic net changes. One notable trend is that the eleven jurisdictions with the highest percentages of international migration gains also suffered losses to domestic migration.

The biggest net demographic changes from 2020 to 2022 combining domestic losses and international gains from immigration were:

  • Alexandria: domestic migration -6.1%, international migration +1.7%
  • Arlington County: domestic -4.7%, international + 1.5%
  • Charlottesville: domestic -4.7%; international +1%
  • Manassas:  domestic -3.8%; international +1.4%
  • Harrisonburg: domestic -3.8%, international +1.3%

Bottom line. The COVID years found people on the move. Some changes turned out as we might have expected. Many did not.

Life is like that.