Without babies and immigrants, Tulsa County would have lost population last year (Tulsa World)

By Curtis Killman

Tulsa County’s population grew by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2016, with all the growth due to births and people moving into the county from outside the country, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

It marked the first time in five years that net domestic migration, the difference between the number of people moving into and out of an area from within the United States, declined in Tulsa County.

International migration here remained steady during the same time period, July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016.

In all, Tulsa County net domestic migration — to and from other states and other counties within Oklahoma — led to nearly 300 fewer residents during the 2015-16 time period, while net international migration increased the population by 1,400, U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday show.

And while all of Tulsa County’s population growth in the past year might have been due to births and international migration, Hispanic countries weren’t the only source of that migrant growth.

An estimated 6,000 Zomi people from the Chin state in northwestern Myanmar, formerly Burma, have recently begun calling the Tulsa area home.

Cing Mang said she cried a lot when she saw her mother and two sisters arrive in Tulsa on a plane in October 2015.

Mang had last seen her mother and two sisters in 2011, when she left Myanmar to come to the United States as a refugee.

Her mother has since found work, while her two teenage sisters are attending school.

Mang, who become a U.S. citizen last year, said she plans to stay in Tulsa.

“I just like it,” she said.

The fall in domestic migration coincides with a plunge in energy prices during the same time period.

Overall, the Tulsa County population increased about 0.7 percent between July 1, 2015, and July 1, 2016, going from 638,558 in July 2015 to 642,940 in one year.

David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the decline in domestic population growth is not surprising, considering that the state had been gaining in population for several years as oil prices surged.

“It would seem at first glance we are seeing the effects of the economic slowdown that Oklahoma has experienced in the last year or so,” Blatt said.

Tulsa County net domestic migration declined by 291 residents. The last time Tulsa County saw domestic outmigration outpace domestic migration into the county was the period between 2010 and 2011, when the net loss was 1,166 residents.

Tulsa County’s domestic migration loss in the year prior to July 1, 2016, mirrored that of the state and many other Oklahoma counties.

The state of Oklahoma had a net domestic population loss of 3,822 during a time when the oil industry was experiencing a downtown. Meanwhile, Oklahoma gained 6,716 people through international migration.

Blatt cautions that it might be difficult to sustain the growth in international migration, given the “general political climate.”

“If we want Oklahoma to continue to be a growing state, then the growth in international migration is going to be critical for the state’s continued growth,” Blatt said.

The Tulsa Metropolitan Statistical Area population increased from 980,459 to 987,201, or about 0.7 percent annually, for both the county and metro area.

The Tulsa County annual population increase is about half the rate during the prior year and is the smallest annual rate of change dating back to the 2010-11 time period, when the change was 0.6 percent.

Perhaps just as important is the natural population change, which is the difference between births and deaths. Deaths are expected to outpace births in coming years in many communities as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

Statewide, the percentage change in the death rate has outpaced that of the birth rate since at least 2011.

“We certainly want the population to be growing,” Blatt said. “Particularly as our population is going to be aging, then we’re going to need growth in the working-age population and child population, so Oklahoma will need to find ways to be an attractive place for people to move from other states.”


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