May 24, 2024 - News

These Phoenix "exurbs" are experiencing a population boom

An aerial view of a new housing development.

Queen Creek saw the greatest rate of growth of any major Valley city last year. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cities on the far outskirts of metro Phoenix saw much higher rates of population growth than the Valley as a whole last year, according to newly released Census estimates.

The big picture: This tracks a national trend of more people moving to "exurbs" — the far outer suburbs of metro areas.

Stunning stat: Maricopa, Casa Grande, Eloy and Coolidge — each of which are 40 miles or more from downtown Phoenix — contributed one-third of the metro area's population growth last year, compared to 4% from 2018 to 2019, per the new estimates.

Zoom in: Queen Creek, in the far southeast corner of the Valley, saw an 8.3% population increase last year — the highest rate of any Valley city with more than 20,000 people.

  • Meanwhile, Phoenix proper saw about a 0.4% increase and closer suburbs Chandler and Mesa saw slight decreases.

The intrigue: The exurb boom is likely a consequence of high housing prices pushing people farther from the city center and an increase in remote work that makes living away from employment centers more palatable, per the Census Bureau.

  • "Exurbs have sometimes been among the most rapidly growing communities, but this appears to be even more true now than before the pandemic," Census Bureau demographer Luke Rogers said in a recent report.
The bar chart ranks U.S. cities with at least 250k people by change in population from 2022 to 2023. Atlanta, Fort Worth, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., experienced the most growth, while New Orleans, St. Louis, and Philadelphia saw the largest declines. The population of Phoenix increased by 0.4%.
Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: The Phoenix metro area gained about 49,000 people between 2022 and 2023 — a nearly 1% increase, per Census Bureau estimates. That's a slower pace than we saw during the pandemic-era Sunbelt boom.

  • In each of the two previous years, the Valley saw about a 1.5% jump.

What we're watching: The Maricopa Association of Governments, which does its own population tracking, was surprised by the Census estimates, interim regional analytics director Scott Wilken told Axios Phoenix.

  • MAG's numbers showed a slight drop-off in domestic migration, but not nearly to the level of the Census Bureau's estimates.
  • Wilken said the Census uses unreleased IRS data to make its estimates, so it's hard for MAG to confirm or refute their validity.

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