- By Taylor Goldenstein American-Statesman Staff
Perhaps the balloons and confetti fell a little too early last year when the Austin metro area celebrated surpassing 2 million residents.
Turns out, after some routine revisions to the U.S. Census Bureau data, Austin actually hit that milestone later than originally thought, according to new numbers released Thursday.
Specifically, the five-county metro area cleared that population hurdle by July 1, 2016 — with 2,056,405 people — not July 1, 2015, when the latest estimates put the Austin area’s population at 1,998,104 people. (Population estimates are typically released almost a year after the fact.)
Peter Borsella, a Census Bureau demographer, said the agency updates its estimates annually as new and more accurate data comes in. Borsella was less than sympathetic to Austin’s recalled-then-regranted victory.
“I understand you’re crossing a major population threshold, which makes it more noticeable, but changes like that from new data is not uncommon,” he said. “And relatively speaking those are very small changes.”
In the case of the Austin metro area, the 2015 estimate was revised downward by just 2,756 people. Only two metro areas in the U.S. saw no change in their 2015 estimates, an indication of how common such revisions are.
City demographer Ryan Robinson was equally unfazed.
“It wasn’t quite 2 million, but because we’re gaining 55,000 to 60,000 people each year, if we didn’t cross that threshold July 1 (2015), then we crossed it very soon after,” Robinson said. “So to me, it’s kind of splitting hairs.”
In fact, last year the Austin metro area — which includes Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties — was the fastest-growing major metro area with more than 1 million people, a feat it has accomplished every year since 2010. The Austin area grew by 2.9 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The numbers are on track for the Austin metro area to hit the 3 million mark — or very close — by 2030, Robinson predicted.
Mayor Steve Adler also took the news quite lightly. “I thought y’all had just lost weight,” Adler quipped. “It’s not important whether Austin crosses the 2 million mark last year or this year. We’re getting really big.”
But the discovery is another chance to contemplate the real-life implications of Austin growing into its own as a big city.
“It feels like there’s a whole bunch of folks out in traffic, bidding on the same house, and in front of me in the line at Franklin,” Adler said. “We need to better manage growth to preserve the spirit and soul of Austin.”