Greater Boston shows most population gains as rural areas shrink

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BOSTON – Most recent population growth in Massachusetts has occurred in Boston and the metro area, while the number of residents in some rural counties and on Cape Cod actually shrank, U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday show.

Compared with some other parts of the nation, particularly in parts of Texas and Florida, the Bay State’s growth pales, however, the figures show. For instance, the area around Orlando, Florida, saw a 4.3 percent gain in population last year. In Texas, the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio metro areas were among the top gainers in the nation, the Census Bureau said.

The data reflect a continuing trend of population growth in the nation’s major cities, although Cook County, made up mainly of Chicago, declined slightly, to 5.2 million. Chicago has become notorious for the amount of gun violence and deaths in recent years, compared with other major U.S. cities. A Census map shows that most counties that lost population are in rural areas, such as northern Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. Many area also clustered along the Mississippi River.

In Massachusetts, Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, topped the state in terms of the rate of growth from 2014 to 2015, at almost 1.1 percent. From 2010 to 2015, the county’s population rose 7.3 percent, to 778,121.

By comparison, the state’s most-populous county, Middlesex, grew 0.8 percent from 2014 to 1,585,139 in 2015 and by about 5.5 percent over the five-year period, the Census figures show. The number of people in both Essex and Plymouth counties rose 0.7 percent in 2015 from the previous year. Both, along with parts of southeastern New Hampshire, make up the greater Boston metro area, which ranks 10th in the nation in population size at 4,774,321 residents.

Nantucket County, the state’s smallest, gained about 1 percent in 2015 from 2014, and was up 7.4 percent over five years, to 10,925.

But it was a different story in the western half of the state, past Worcester County, which recorded increases less than half as great as Boston’s.

Like Cape Cod, whose Barnstable County recorded slight declines over both the one-year and five-year periods, both Berkshire and Franklin counties showed slight declines as well.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.