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By James Lee

The U.S. Census Bureau released new population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas in March 2024. Montgomery County, along with the Washington, DC region and the state of Maryland, is regaining the population it lost during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog describes the trends driving these recent changes.

Montgomery County’s population in 2023

Montgomery County’s estimated population as of July 1, 2023, was 1,058,474 people, an increase of 5,407 people (0.51%) from July 1, 2022 (Figure 1). While this figure is still nearly 3,600 residents lower than the April 1, 2020 (Census Day) estimate of 1,062,065, it represents a partial recovery from the decline that took place between 2020 and 2022.


Where did our growth come from?

Population change consists of three major components:

  • Natural increase: The number of births minus the number of deaths in Montgomery County.
  • Net domestic migration: The number of persons moving into Montgomery County from other U.S. locations minus the number of persons leaving the county for other U.S. locations.
  • Net international migration: The number of persons moving into Montgomery County from locations outside the United States minus the number of persons moving out to locations abroad.

For the net migration components, a positive number means that more people moved into the county than moved out, and a negative number means the opposite.

Figure 2 breaks down the yearly population change into its components to explain the county’s most recent population increase, and Figure 3 shows the yearly change in the county’s population. From 2022 to 2023, the county lost 11,153 persons through net domestic migration (as shown by the gray bars in Figure 2) and gained 11,191 residents through net international migration (as shown by the orange bars). These latest numbers show international and domestic migration balancing each other out. In contrast, the previous two years had many more people moving out of the county than moved in. The blue bars in Figure 2 also show that the county had a natural increase of 5,297 from 2022 to 2023. In the previous two years, the natural increase was lower due to more deaths, and the increase did not offset the larger numbers of people moving away.



How does this latest growth compare with recent trends?

Historically, migration has had a major impact on the county’s population growth. Typically, migration from abroad makes up for population loss from domestic migration, and both fluctuate due to broader conditions. For example, a strong national economy with competitive job opportunities in places with a lower cost of living can draw people away from the county and the DC region. Conversely, during national economic downturns, the county benefits from the DC region’s stronger job market due to its large federal government presence. County residents ages 55 to 74 have historically higher out-migration rates; many in this age group are likely recent retirees who are moving away to live in areas with a lower cost of living. International migration into the county is contingent on national immigration policy, world politics, and global economic cycles and tends to be less tied to national or local economic conditions.

Figure 2 shows that net domestic out-migration picked up through the 2010s as the national economy improved after the Great Recession of 2008 and as the leading edge of the baby boom generation reached retirement age. Lower migration levels from abroad in the late 2010s are tied to changes in national immigration policy that led to fewer immigrants entering the United States. The increase in domestic out-migration during the 2010s contributed to declining yearly population growth that became more severe later in the decade, when the county also received fewer international migrants (Figure 3).

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, it disrupted migration trends. Despite a global recession, domestic out-migration accelerated as a large part of the workforce rapidly transitioned to remote work, which allowed people to relocate. On top of that, pandemic-related restrictions on international travel temporarily slowed foreign migration. These factors contributed to the county’s population loss from 2020 to 2022, the first one since 1980.

Data from 2023 indicate a mixed picture regarding current migration trends. As the national economy recovered, domestic out-migration remained high, which may indicate that there were better employment opportunities elsewhere. Some out-migration likely also included retirees leaving, a trend that is expected to continue as the county’s population ages. However, more residents may have chosen to stay as employers restricted their ability to work remotely, and housing in other places became less affordable. Reduced travel restrictions, further changes to immigration policy, and recent geopolitical events in other countries meant that the county again received more international migrants.

Finally, population growth due to natural increase has shrunk over time. In line with national trends that predate the pandemic, the county has had fewer births and more deaths, which are related to delayed childbearing among younger adults and an aging population. High death rates and fewer childbirths during the pandemic temporarily reduced the natural population increase even further. However, the pandemic’s effects on the number of births and deaths were never as large as its effects on migration and quickly diminished as vaccines became widely available and the economy improved. Overall, trends in natural increase have been more stable than migration trends.

Looking ahead

This most recent population rebound provides some optimism that Montgomery County will continue to grow and be an attractive destination for current and new residents. The county’s expected future growth reflects its current status as a populous, maturing suburb. This growth will require more efficient use of land through infill development and redevelopment, as well as inclusive growth through more abundant, affordable housing for households of all incomes.

Part 2 of this blog series will compare the county’s recent population trends with those in the DC region. Get more information about the Census Bureau’s population estimates program.

James LeeAbout the author
James Lee is the forecaster and demographic research specialist in Montgomery Planning’s Research and Strategic Projects Division. His areas of expertise include demographic analysis, census statistics, GIS data analysis, and immigration. James has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Georgia and, prior to joining Montgomery Planning, was an immigration analyst for the federal government and a GIS analyst for Gwinnett County, Georgia’s planning department.

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