The U.S. Census Bureau released new data last week showing that Colorado, with an increase of 79,662 residents in the past year, was the seventh-fastest growing state in that time.
From July 2017 to July 2018, the state grew by 1.4 percent. The leaders in that period were also in the West: Nevada and Idaho tying at 2.1 percent growth. The U.S. overall grew by 0.6 percent in the same time.
In absolute numbers, Texas tops the 12-month list with a population gain of 379,128; Colorado is in eighth place.
Colorado now has an estimated 5,695,500 residents, almost 700,000 more than in 2010. That’s a 13.2 percent growth rate in eight years, the third-highest in the country, behind Texas and Utah. In that time, only three states lost population, all in the East: Illinois, West Virginia and Connecticut.
It is not a new development. Colorado has seen steady growth in every decade since statehood.
The biggest percentage gains came from 1870 to 1890, when the state ballooned from 39,864 residents to 413,249. It was drawing people from the East then, as it still does, but then it was part of an expanding frontier, and many came looking for mining riches. They generally did not hit gold or silver, but some stuck around anyway.
That pattern continued into the 1920s, but now it was supplemented not by miners but by mine workers, many of whom came from other countries – in the shanty towns around Ludlow and Trinidad, there were Greek and Italian and Bulgarian laborers; in some places, more than a dozen languages were spoken.
Immigrants often came by transatlantic ship to ports of entry such as Ellis Island, boarded a train in Manhattan and stepped off at a small siding in central Colorado 70 hours later with their few bundled possessions, not speaking a word of English. It was almost like time travel.
The state’s population growth continued, at a slower rate, until the 1950s. That’s when tourism, combined with improved highways, brought many people West for a look-see. Some liked what they saw so much – open spaces, opportunities – they came back to stay.
We do not know what motivates the typical emigrant since 2010, but we can imagine.
Jobs, especially along the Front Range, are one draw, and it looks like about 70 percent of the state’s population growth is there. But we think it may be more than that, too.
Look at Colorado Springs, a big, sprawling and still growing city. Now, suppose you are coming from New York or Florida or West Texas. Your first glimpse of towering Pike’s Peak from I-25 will bowl you over. Nothing like it exists in those other places.
This kind of growth also has drawbacks. You can get stuck in slowly crawling traffic up north on I-25 seven days a week, when the view is less magnificent.
The Front Range has been looking for billions to widen that highway to Denver. The constituency is a lot of people who would be joined by newcomers on a wider highway at rush hours, going nowhere fast.
Down in Southwest, we don’t really have rush hours. Sometimes we have rush minutes.
The same is true of traffic generally from Cortez to Durango: Even with our smaller, steady growth, it is so slight that an out-of-towner might not notice – although it might be a good idea if we just kept that to ourselves.