The Reverse Dust Bowl: Population growth in the Sooner State

We recently reported on how Oklahoma’s robust economic growth prior to the recent downturn vaulted the state from the poorest fifth of states early this decade, as measured by per capita personal income,  to the 28th spot in 2008. Further confirmation of the state’s good fortunes is provided by the annual population estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau and aggregated into user-friendly spreadsheets by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. As can be seen from the table below, Oklahoma’s population growth trailed the national average for the first part of this decade, but then caught up and passed the national average in the three years of 2006-08. In 2008, the state’s population grew by an estimated 34,238 people, or 0.95 percent, slightly outpacing the 0.92 percent population growth of the nation as a whole. The state’s estimated population on July 1, 2008 was 3,642,361, making it thpopchangee 28th most populous state for the eighth straight year.

Since 2000, Oklahoma’s population has grown at an average annual rate of 0.67 percent, 27th fastest among the states but somewhat below the national average of 0.94 percent. During this period, Nevada has experienced the greatest population growth at an average annual rate of 3.24 percent. Louisiana is the only state to have lost population since 2000, due to Hurricane Katerina and its aftermath, while Rhode Island, North Dakota, West Virginia and Michigan have all grown less than 0.1 percent per year.

New data released last week showed population changes at the city level. Fairmont in Garfield County (+7.0 percent) and Collinsville in Tulsa County (+6.9 percent) were the state’s fastest growing cities in 2008. Oklahoma City’s population increased 1.2 percent in 2008 to 551,789 residents, while Tulsa grew 0.5 percent to 385,635.

At the state level, Oklahoma’s population growth this decade has been primarily due to growth in the state’s Hispanic population.  Hispanics account for a full 52 percent of the state’s total population growth between 2000 and 2008. The Hispanic population grew by 55.4 percent in this period, while the number of non-Hispanics increased by just 2.8 percent. The growing Hispanic population reflects a combination of migration and a young population of child-bearing age.

Both  international and domestic migration have played a role in Oklahoma’s recent population growth. While the former has captured a great deal of attention, it is also the case that in recent years, more people are moving into Oklahoma from other states than are moving out. The June Oklahoma Data Center newsletter of the Department of Commerce examines data from the American Community Survey from 2005 to 2007 and finds that Oklahoma experienced a net population gain of 21,000 people moving from other states. Among the report’s findings:

  • In state-to-state comparisons, Oklahoma showed a net gain from all but 11 states.
  • Oklahoma’s largest net population gain came from California, with some 6,000 more Californians heading to Oklahoma than those moving in the opposite direction. Oklahoma also enjoyed sizable net migration gains from new Mexico, Florida, Arizona, and Ohio but lost residents to Alabama, Oregon, Kentucky and the Carolinas.
  • Those moving to Oklahoma were largely young, with 50 percent between the ages if 18 and 39 and a median age of just 26.4. Less than 5 percent of transplants were over age 65.

While Oklahoma’s recent population growth is good news in a number of ways, the state is not expected to regain its sixth Congressional seat lost after the 2000 Census. According to projections by Election Data Services, 8 or 9 states are likely to gain one or more seats in the 2010 Congressional reapportionment, while 10-12 states are likely to lose at least one seat;  Oklahoma is virtually guaranteed to hold steady with five seats in the House of Representatives.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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