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Immigrants accounted for almost half of all population growth in the United States between 2017 and 2018, according to newly released Census Bureau data.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: It's a reminder of how rapidly the demographics of the country are changing — and how the bitter political fights over immigration aren't changing the broader trends.

  • The high levels of immigration could also help mitigate the negative impact of falling birth rates — which could leave the U.S. with a large dependent population of children and retired people and a much smaller workforce, slowing economic growth.

The big picture: Nine percent of the nation's counties grew due to immigration rather than more births than deaths — including counties that contain most of San Francisco, Houston and Boston, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

  • More than half of the population growth in the District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and seven other states was due to immigration.
  • In other cases, immigration has helped stymie falling populations. In New York state, for example, the overall population fell by 48,500 people between 2017 and 2018 — largely due to people moving to other states. International immigration was a greater source of population growth there than natural increase (caused by more births than deaths.)

Between the lines: If it weren't for immigration, 44% of Americans would be living in shrinking counties, the New York Times notes.

Two other notable trends:

1. Big cities are shrinking. There's a lot of talk about the concentration of wealth and opportunity in the nation's biggest cities. Yet, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago all saw their populations decline in the past year as people move out to surrounding suburbs.

  • Meanwhile, small metro areas and suburbs outside of urban cores are booming, according to a Brookings Institution analysis given to Axios.
  • Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, for example, had the highest numeric population growth from 2010 to 2018 for metro areas.
  • Of the 10 counties that saw the highest percent increase in people over the past year, four were in Texas.

2. A small rural revival. For the second year in a row, non-metro areas — which include rural areas as well as towns with between 10-50,000 people— grew at a low rate.

  • This comes after 6 years of population loss in non-metro areas.
  • This is likely due to the recovery of the U.S. economy after the recession, Brookings demographer William Frey told Axios. But higher immigration levels in these areas are also a factor.
  • The fastest growing county was in North Dakota, where fracking has boosted the economy.

Go deeper

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.

Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggression

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a military exposition in Sevastopol, Crimea, in Jan. 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine's economy, according to an internal document from Ukraine's ministry of defense reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: With the eyes of the world on the massive buildup of troops in eastern Ukraine, the leaked memo shows Russian forces escalating their presence on all sides of the Ukrainian border.

Elon Musk: Autopilot feature wasn't enabled in fatal Texas crash

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that "data logs recovered so far" show the car's Autopilot feature was not enabled — and it did not have access to "full self-driving mode" — in the deadly crash in Texas involving the company's electric vehicle.

Background: Local investigators said they believed the car was operating without anyone in the driver's seat. At the time of death, one man was in the passenger seat, while another was in the rear seat, KPRC 2 reports.