Suffolk population to skyrocket

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Suffolk is the only locality in Hampton Roads projected to grow 10 percent or more in each decade between 2000 and 2040, according to the latest population projections by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The center recently released its population projections for 2020, 2030 and 2040. Virginia is expected to pass New Jersey and Michigan to become the nation’s 10th most populous state by 2040, when more than 10 million people will live in Virginia.

By 2040, Suffolk’s population could rise to 128,053, according to the center’s projections. That’s nearly a 40-percent increase from the 2016 population estimate of 91,722.

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Only 15 localities in the state are expected to be more populous than Suffolk by 2045, according to the data. The projections are the official numbers for the state and are shared with officials for planning purposes.

At the same time as Virginia’s population is expanding, the rate of population growth is slowing compared to previous decades, consistent with a national trend, according to the Weldon Cooper Center.

The numbers show the divide between urban and rural Virginia will become increasingly sharp over the next couple of decades. Virginia’s urban population will be younger and more racially diverse and growing at a faster rate than most communities in rural Virginia, according to the Weldon Cooper Center.

Virginia’s three largest metropolitan areas — Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads — are projected to account for nearly 90 percent of the state’s total population gains in the coming decades, according to the Weldon Cooper Center.

By 2030, Virginia’s elderly population is expected to nearly double in size, accounting for about one in five Virginians. That statistic indicates the state should begin preparing for the increased level of health care and support services this population will require, Shonel Sen, lead researcher for population projections at the Demographics Research Group, said in a press release.

The increase in the senior population will be more obvious in rural counties, where the share of residents over 65 may rise to more than a third of all residents.

Racial diversity overall in the state is expected to expand during the next two decades. By 2040, it’s possible less than half of Virginians will identify as “non-Hispanic white,” according to the population estimates.

For example, in Suffolk, fewer than 5 percent of residents in 2020 will be Hispanic, according to the projections. But by 2040, nearly 11 percent are projected to be Hispanic.

“While some trends are certain, such as population aging and increasing racial diversity, the future — especially the longer-term future — is inherently unknown,” Qian Cai, director of the Demographics Research Group, stated in the press release. “This is why we encourage data users to recognize the limitations in the projections. Nonetheless, localities can and should actively plan for their futures, and may turn to the trends in the past as indicators of what may lie ahead.”