Hawkins Co. flexed its growth muscles in 2021, according to Census data released this week. Its estimated population was 1% higher than its 2020 census total. That was the highest growth rate among the three local counties with population gains.
According to the Census estimate, over two-thirds of the nation’s counties had natural population decreases last year. Natural decreases happen when there are more deaths than births. In 2021, fewer births, an aging population and increased mortality – intensified by the pandemic – contributed to the natural population decrease. It has been the norm in the Tri-Cities for about a decade.
But growth in Hawkins, Sullivan, and Washington Co. TN was enough to boost the region’s estimated population to 516,729, up 0.4%. It was the lowest growth rate among the four neighboring consolidated areas. Knoxville-Morristown had the region’s highest growth rate, up 1.2%, followed by Chattanooga-Cleveland, up 0.7% and Asheville-Marion, up 0.6%.
Here’s how the local population estimates looked by county:
Carter, 56,134, down 222
Greene, 70,621, up 469
Hawkins, 57,288, up 567
Scott, 21,419, down 157
Sullivan, 159,265, up 1,102
Unicoi, 17,6989, down 230
Washington TN, 17,698, up 1,235
Washington VA, 53,635, down 300
Bristol, VA, 17,054, down 165
Bristol is included because independent cities are counted as county-equivalents in Virginia.
Growth was driven by new residents since all the region’s counties had more deaths than births. It’s been that way for at least a decade. Here’s the effect that deaths had on last year’s natural population. It’s determined by the difference between the number of births and deaths:
Carter, down 502
Greene, down 514
Hawkins, down 441
Scott, down 249
Sullivan, down 1,077
Unicoi, down 205
Washington TN, down 528
Washington VA, down 447
Bristol VA, down 129
The final component of population change is net migration. It’s the number of people who came into the county vs. those who left for other regions or died.
Carter, up 316
Greene, up 918
Hawkins, up 1,071
Scott, up 120
Sullivan, up 2,261
Unicoi, up 33
Washington TN, up 1,680
Washington VA, up 238
Bristol VA, down 77
Last year’s births were down 280 from 2020. There was speculation that the economic shutdowns and stay-at-home orders would lead to a baby boom. Professionals countered that a baby bust was more likely because birth rates typically decline when people are worried about the economy.
The decline in births began a decade ago during the Great Recession and reflects the ways Millennials prioritize education and work by delaying marriage and parenthood. They began graining their economic footing locally just before the pandemic hit.
With the exception of Hawkins’s emergence as a growth hot spot, the population trend didn’t vary from the pattern the region has experienced for several years. And although the number of counties that lost population, the loss rate is edging lower with the number of new residents moving to NE Tenn.
One way to look at the growth is how investors and builders are ramping up the region’s housing stock. A rough count of the additions in some phase of development points to about 3,500 new housing units in the Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport area. Those developments include single-family homes, townhomes, and apartment complexes.