The latest Census data for state population was released this week, going up to July 1. Arizona remains the third most populous state in the West — an astounding fact for those of us who grew up in a small, frontier state — and that is not good news for boosters that expected it to reach No. 2 behind California.
Worse for the growth machine, the annual increase was only 1.15 percent. Growth from 2010 through July 2013 was somewhat better, a cumulative 3.4 percent.
But this is not the population increases upon which the business plans of so much of Arizona businesses are predicated. In the 1990s, the state grew by 40 percent. In the 2000s, shattered by the housing depression, population still grew by 24.6 percent. The annual growth of 2012-2013 will not get the state anywhere near that number in 2020.
In the decade of the Great Depression, Arizona's population increased by only 14.6 percent. The lesser depression of today may promise more of the same. The nation grew only 0.71 percent in the most recent year, the slowest growth since the Depression.
Even Texas, rich in energy, corporate centers, major universities, federal dollars and a good relationship with Mexico grew by 1.5 percent.
Put another way, Arizona's 75,475 is far from the 100,000-plus annual growth that was common during the boom years. There is also the problem, mentioned in the previous column, of very heavy churn. In 2012, 232,457 people moved to Arizona but 206,842 left.
[UPDATE] A new report from Atlas Van Lines showed more people left Arizona than moving there in 2013. This is preliminary and based on limited data, but it is another unsettling sign.
With the exception of Nevada, other growth states have substantial economies going for them. This is even true of Florida. For Arizona, adding more people is the economy, with a few add-ons that might be impressive for Iowa but not enough to pay for a state of Arizona's size.
The booster class can say, look at California: "It's losing people." Actually, no. The Golden State grew by 0.87 percent.
A point I've been making all the way back to my "dangerous" Arizona Republic columns is that population growth is a poor yardstick to measure the health and prosperity of any place. It was a very unpopular view.
Far better for Arizona to focus on growth of incomes, college graduates, startups, shade, educational funding for the poorest schools, ladders up for the low skilled, technology and biomedical centers, the stature of our universities, children climbing out of poverty, measures to ameliorate climate change and the vibrancy of our center cities and real towns.
As for population, it is as much a cost and a drag as an advantage — at least beyond the fleeting profits from real-estate hustles. One reminder of this is the 1960s rural Interstate that connects the state's two large metropolitan areas.
Is the state attracting and retaining talent and high-skilled workers from around the world in large numbers? Or retirees, the working poor and low-skilled immigrants? We know the answer.
For most of us on this blog, these numbers are good news. Slow population growth is a good thing, in a state that shouldn't have 6.6 million people, in a world beyond its carrying capacity at more than 7 billion souls.
For a state with a brain, it would represent breathing space to catch up on infrastructure, education and culture that has been sacrificed decade after decade to the growth god. To prepare itself for the huge disruptions to come from resource scarcity and climate change.
But that won't happen. The conversation won't even be allowed. Better to swoon over DMB's new far-flung subdivision aimed at baby boomers, even though many boomers are headed to great cities. Hey, you don't have to shovel sunshine!
[UPDATE] I am suspicious of the local-yokel "economists" and other "experts" a la Upton Sinclair ("It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it"). The lesser depression continues, including in Arizona real estate.
For example, according to the Federal Reserve, 1,174 private housing units were permitted in November -- for the entire state. This compares to monthly tops of 7,000 in the 1990s and more than 9,000 in the 2000s. The overall trendline is at a historic low.
Perhaps Arizona will get one more boom with championship golf. But all the stresses facing the state will slowly squeeze it. At some point slow growth will turn to net out-migration.
And there's no Plan B.
Thanks for reading and commenting this year as Rogue has continued to grow. Have a great 2014.