Aug 12, 2021 - News

Fast-growing Mecklenburg is officially no longer NC’s biggest county

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Unsurprising to anyone who’s experienced traffic here recently, the Charlotte area was one of the fastest-growing parts of the state over the last decade, new census data show.

By the numbers: Mecklenburg County’s population swelled 21.3% to 1,115,482 from 2010-2020. But Mecklenburg officially fell to Wake as the largest county in the state. Wake, which includes Raleigh and Cary, now has 1,129,410 residents.

  • Of course: Wake’s total land area is 857 square miles, compared to Mecklenburg’s 546.

Yes, but: Charlotte was one of several cities with a population increase of 100,000 or more over the last decade, joining the ranks of other fast-growing cities like Austin, Denver, Phoenix and Seattle.

  • Charlotte’s population grew 19.6% to 874,579 over the last decade.

Why it matters: Census data is the backbone for municipal planning. It determines everything from how much federal funding we get for needs like public transit, to how many representatives in Congress we have.

Data: Census Bureau. Chart: Danielle Chemtob

Political context: Lawmakers will use the data to redraw election districts through a process known as redistricting. The state gained an additional seat in Congress, and redistricting will determine where it will go.

North Carolina’s process is likely to be scrutinized after the courts struck previous maps and ruled that gerrymandering led by the GOP had targeted Black citizens with “almost surgical precision.”

The data will have implications for local elections too.

  • Because we’re getting this data later than anticipated (thanks to the pandemic), and because we need it to create new district maps, Charlotte is delaying its city elections until next year.

Counties surrounding Charlotte saw substantial population growth over the last 10 years as well.

  • Cabarrus County grew 26.8% to 225,804.
  • Union County grew 18.4% to 238,267.
  • Gaston County grew 10.6% to 227,943.

On the other side of the growth spectrum, 51 counties across North Carolina lost population over the last 10 years, UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Demography noted. These included several rural parts of the states.

  • Among the counties that shrank: Robeson (which includes Lumberton), Duplin (which includes Kenansville) and Edgecombe (which includes Rocky Mount). 

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