Tennessee's growth rate during the relevant 10-year period was almost 20 percent higher than the comparable national growth rate of 9.7 percent.
At the state level of aggregation, the 2010 Census count showed that Tennessee had a total population of 6,346,105, its highest population ever. This figure represents a growth of 656,822 people or 11.5 percent from the 2000 population of 5,689,283. Tennessee's growth rate during the relevant 10-year period was almost 20 percent higher than the comparable national growth rate of 9.7 percent. Only 18 of the 50 states experienced a larger percentage increase than did Tennessee. Tennessee ranked 17th among the states in total population size in 2010 and 16th in 2000.
Not only did Tennessee's population grow faster than that of the nation during the period from 2000 to 2010, but it also grew faster than the population in many neighboring states. As a group, the 11 southern states experienced a population increase of 15.5 percent from 2000 to 2010. Every state in the region shared in the increase, with Tennessee being in seventh position in terms of relative population growth. Texas and North Carolina led the group with figures of 20.6 percent and 18.5 percent, respectively, while Louisiana was at the bottom with a figure of 1.4 percent. Seven of the 11 southern states recorded a percentage increase greater than the national average.
Another significant fact is that the population in Tennessee has increased at an accelerating rate in every decennial census since 1950 and seems to be continuing to increase somewhat. The state's population growth rate was only 8.4 percent in the 1950s but rose slightly to 10.1 percent in the 1960s before climbing to 16.9 percent in 1970. The growth rate for the 1980s was somewhat lower at 10.4 percent. This rapid growth rate, and the likelihood that it will continue, raises many questions about the state's ability to recruit enough new industries to provide the necessary jobs as well as adequate social services and public welfare programs to sustain its growing number of inhabitants.
Every year, thousands of Tennesseans move to a new location. The perceived advantage of one location over another changes over time. Sometimes the move involves emigration to another county or to another state in the U.S. Frequently, however, it is a movement across town or to another city or county within the same state, most often to a faster-growing adjacent area where employment opportunities are better.
Primarily because of this human ebb and flow, population growth is rarely uniform across areas and regions. In the following analysis, data will be examined to show exactly where population growth has occurred by county in Tennessee from 2000 to 2010. A later section will identify factors that appear to be associated with changes in population. For comparative and analytical purposes, counties will be grouped into the three traditional grand divisions: west, middle, and east Tennessee. This grouping provides the basis for the more systematic study of population trends, lends a regional dimension to the study, and provides depth to an understanding of the obvious geographic split in the subarea patterns of growth in the state.
As mentioned above, the state's population grew by 11.5 percent during the period from 2000 to 2010. Population changes in individual counties ranged from a growth of 44.7 percent in Williamson County and 44.3 percent in Rutherford County to a decline of 5.1 percent in Haywood County. Eight counties recorded a decrease in population, 25 grew faster on a proportionate basis than the state as a whole, and other counties grew by less than the state average. The tables accompanying the text for each of the three grand divisions show comparative patterns of growth from 2000 to 2010 for each of the state's 95 counties.