By on 8.12.21 in Census 2020

We’re looking at the redistricting data file that was released on August 12, 2021.

North Carolina Data Files (CSVs) (will be updated as available):

2020 Census Population & Housing for Redistricting (NC Only)

Blocks | Counties | Places (Cities, Towns, and CDPs) | Place by County | Townships (Minor Civil Divisions) | VTDs | School Districts

2010 and 2020 Census Data for NC

Tracts | Counties | Congressional Districts | State House Districts | State Senate Districts | File Layout

Note: For data not shown here, check out Big Local News (“The 2020 Census Data Co-Op Project”, free with sign up and covers all states) or this GitHub from Tyler Dukes.

Population Growth & Change

Between 2010 and 2020, North Carolina’s population grew from 9,535,483 to 10,439,483, an increase of 903,905 or 9.5%. Over this same period, 51 North Carolina counties lost population (for a total combined loss of 147,224) and 49 counties gained population (a total combined gain of 1,051,129).

What are the most populous counties in North Carolina?

Wake County officially surpassed Mecklenburg to become the most populous county in North Carolina. Otherwise, the five largest counties in North Carolina in 2020 were also the five largest in 2010:

  • Wake: 1,129,410
  • Mecklenburg: 1,115,482
  • Guilford: 541,299
  • Forsyth: 382,590
  • Cumberland: 334,728

Both Wake and Mecklenburg are more than twice as populous as Guilford, the state’s third largest county. Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford grew faster than the state over the decade while Forsyth and Cumberland grew more slowly.

What are the least populous counties in North Carolina?

Tyrrell County remains the least populous county in North Carolina and five smallest counties are the same as in 2010, with some shuffling between Jones and Camden:

  • Tyrrell: 3,245
  • Hyde: 4,589
  • Graham: 8,030
  • Jones: 9,172
  • Camden: 10,355

Camden County was the only one of these counties to grow over the decade (3.8%). The other four counties had large population losses.

Note: Small populations can limit the amount of data available to communities. With populations under 5,000 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau will not publish American Community Survey comparison profiles for Tyrrell and Hyde.

What are the fastest-growing counties in North Carolina?

After a decade of population estimates suggesting that Brunswick was the fastest-growing county, Johnston County took a slight edge in the end. The five fastest-growing counties in North Carolina from 2010-2020 were:

  • Johnston: 27.9%
  • Brunswick: 27.2%
  • Cabarrus: 26.8%
  • Wake: 25.4%
  • Durham: 21.4%

Each of these counties grew by more than double the state rate of 9.5%, with Johnston growing at nearly three times the state growth rate.

Which counties experienced the largest population declines in North Carolina?

51 counties in North Carolina lost population over the decade. The counties with the largest numeric declines were:

  • Robeson: -17,638
  • Duplin: -9,790
  • Edgecombe: -7,652
  • Columbus: -7,475
  • Halifax: -6,069


The counties with the largest percentage losses were:

  • Tyrrell: -26.4%
  • Hyde: -21.0%
  • Northampton: -20.9%
  • Anson: -18.2%
  • Washington: -16.8%

Tyrrell County lost more than one in four residents over the decade, with a population decline of 1,162. Hyde and Northampton lost more than one in every five residents over the decade.

Is this what we were expecting?

Our first look at the pattern of trends is relatively consistent with what we were expecting based on population estimates leading up to the census. However, the official census count was more than 100,000 fewer individuals than were expected for North Carolina overall; as I noted in April when the state numbers were first released, this meant "we could see counties with larger than expected losses, slower than expected growth, or both." Today's release gave us the answer: more counties than expected lost population and the losses were larger than expected.

Population by Age

The redistricting data file has a very limited look at population by age; the files are limited to voting-age (18+) and children (under 18, identified by subtracting the 18+ figures from the total population). Detailed information on population by age groups will not be released until later this year or early next when the Demographic Profiles and Demographic and Housing Characteristics files are released.

What do we know so far? Virtually all growth in North Carolina's population from 2010-2020 was in the adult (voting-age) population. The child population grew by 2,654 individuals or 0.12% over the decade. (Nationally, the child population declined by 1.4 million, a decrease of 1.9%). In contrast, the adult population increased by 901,251 or 12.4%.

Related: NC growth over last decade entirely from adult population 

Race & Ethnicity

One of the biggest headlines we're seeing is about increasing diversity, specifically with respect to the decline in the white population. Be careful in this interpretation! The 2020 Census significantly changed both how we asked about race and ethnicity (everyone was invited to provide an ancestry response) and the Bureau changed how they coded the data compared to 2010.

The big story here is the significant increase in the share of individuals identifying as Multiracial (two or more races). In North Carolina, this population more than doubled, growing by 161% or an increase of 251,094.

Which racial/ethnic groups had the largest increases in population?

Note: In these and other statistics below, the data for Hispanic or Latinx includes individuals of all race groups while specific racial designations are for individuals who report only that race ("race alone", in Census Bureau terminology) and no Hispanic origin.

Statewide, the share of individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latinx increased the most (318K), followed by Multiracial (251K), Asian (133K), White (88K), Black (88K), some other race (31K), and Pacific Islander (1.7K). The number of individuals identifying only as American Indian decreased by nearly 8,000.

Which racial/ethnic groups grew the fastest?

The fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in North Carolina was the population identifying as some other race (207%), followed by Multiracial (161%), Asian (65%), Hispanic (40%), Pacific Islander (33%), Black (4.3%), and White (1.4%). The number of identifying as American Indian alone decreased by 7%.

How does the racial/ethnic composition vary by county?

Statewide, 60% of North Carolina's residents identified as White, 20% as Black or African American, 11% as Hispanic or Latinx, 3.9% as Multiracial, 3.3% as Asian, 1% as American Indian, 0.4% as some other race, and 0.1% as Pacific Islander. This composition varies significantly by county, as shown in the interactive graphic below.


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