(CNSNews.com) - No wonder there's so much traffic. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest head count of Americans is 288 million - a growth of three million over a year ago. And Nevada is still the fastest-growing state. It now hosts 2.2 million of the nation's inhabitants.
The estimate, released this week, is the result of population sampling that took place between July 1, 2001 and July 1, 2002, according to officials at the Census Bureau.
The West and South were the fastest-growing regions of the country, followed by the Midwest and the Northeast, with the top 10 growth states accounting for 59 percent of the population increase across the country, the Census Bureau stated.
The population estimates included changes that took place in individual states such as births, deaths and migration from other states as well as international migration into states.
Nevada's 3.6 percent population increase was no surprise. According to Census Bureau demographer Melissa Therrien, "It's been the fastest growing state in the nation each of the past 16 years."
Rounding out the list of the five most rapidly growing states are Arizona, Florida, Texas and Georgia.
"Since the latest population estimates were released about a year ago, Texas replaced Colorado as one of the five fastest growing states," Therrien said. "These five states accounted for more than one-third of the national growth."
The Population Reference Bureau, in a recent study, found that immigrants who once settled in places like New York and San Francisco now are choosing cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta, lured by jobs and more affordable housing.
Greg Bortolin, a spokesman for Nevada Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, told CNSNews.com the phenomenal growth has caused some problems for the state along with a downturn in the nation's economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We saw our tourism and gaming sectors impacted by that," he said.
"Now, we are looking at needing about $800 million over the next biennium to keep services at the level they are at," Bortolin said.
However, he believes people are still moving to Nevada in big numbers because of home prices and job opportunities in the state.
"Nevada is a very affordable place to live. Job growth is healthy in the metropolitan areas, Las Vegas especially. I think there's a lot of opportunities in Nevada for people to be able to buy a home and find a good job," said Bortolin.
Nevada has also seen an influx of movie stars and others moving from California. Some stars like Nevada because it has a lower cost of living than California.
"We don't have a state income tax," said Bortolin. "We're a very business-friendly state. There [are] a lot of good reasons why people with a lot of money choose to relocate in places like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe and Reno."
However, Nevada state Senate Democratic Leader Dina Titus told the publication, "Poker Mag," she believes casino gambling continues to fuel Nevada's growth.
"There are jobs here, the cost of living is still low compared to many states, it's good weather and good entertainment," said Titus. "I thought that when the economy slowed down, that would slow down the growth. We're still booming."
William Frey, a demographer with the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, told Poker Mag that states such as Nevada and Georgia are home to the new American suburbs that are growing the way bedroom communities in the Northeast did after World War II.
In those states, "There's much more room to grow," Frey said. "People can buy more space for the same amount of money."
California still remains the most populous state in the country with 35.1 million people in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. It constituted a little over 12 percent of the nation's total population.
The second and third most populous states, Texas with 21.8 million and New York with 19-point-2 million together accounted for a little over 14 percent of the nation's total population.
During the same period, the Census Bureau found that only the District of Columbia and North Dakota experienced declines in population. D.C.'s population declined by 0.5 percent to approximately 571,000, and North Dakota's total declined by 0.4 percent to about 634,000 residents.
Both D.C.'s and North Dakota's populations declined at a slower rate than they had in recent years, the Census Bureau said.
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