RI population grows for sixth year in a row

A view from the East Providence waterfront of the Providence skyline. (Corey Welch/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s population has grown slightly for the sixth year in a row, as a growing number of international migrants offset the departure of domestic residents, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.

The agency said Rhode Island had 1,059,639 residents as of July 1, an increase of about 2,000 or 0.2% compared with a year earlier. The state’s population has grown by about 7,500 residents since 2011.

Though Rhode Island was not among the eight states that actually lost population in the 12 months ended July 1, it remains one of the slowest-growing states in the nation. Massachusetts’ population grew at a slightly faster clip, with an increase of 0.5% or roughly 36,000 residents.

Once again, the overall increase in residents masked a larger shift in terms of who lives in Rhode Island.

Net migration to Rhode Island was slightly positive between July 2016 and July 2017, as the net arrival of 4,798 international migrants more than offset the loss of 3,854 domestic residents, according to Census estimates. There were also 10,915 births and 9,760 deaths in the state during the 12-month period.

The Census Bureau’s definition of international migrants includes “all foreign-born immigrants and emigrants, regardless of legal status.” It also covers migration between Rhode Island and Puerto Rico, and the movement of military members.

The new Census numbers also showed Rhode Island is one of the oldest states in the country, with 80.4% of its residents ages 18 and older. Adults make up a larger share of the population in only three other states – Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Massachusetts was close behind Rhode Island at 80% adults.

The latest numbers will be of keen interest to political observers, because Rhode Island is at risk of losing one of its two U.S. House seats following the 2020 Census due to a shift in population toward the south and west. An analysis by Kimball Brace, the state’s longtime redistricting expert, shows the state is now within 157 residents of losing a seat.

Overall, the U.S. population grew by 2.3 million or 0.7% between July 2016 and July 2017, putting the total number of Americans at 325.7 million.

The fastest-growing state was Idaho, where the population increased 2.2% to 1.7 million, followed by Utah, Washington, Florida and Arizona. Wyoming had the largest percentage decline in population, while Illinois lost the most total residents.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook