Montana Public Radio

Census Numbers Show Big Growth In Western Montana

Apr 19, 2019

New population numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday show that Gallatin County’s population has grown 25 percent since the 2010 census.

That’s far ahead of Madison County which had the next highest growth rate at 14 percent.

Bryce Ward an economist at the University of Montana says those growth rates are among the highest in the nation.

"In certain parts of the West and certain parts of Montana, we’re growing really fast. Gallatin County being the one that’s way out there at the tail at the 99th percentile. But even Flathead County or Missoula County or Yellowstone County or Lewis and Clark County; they’re all in the 80s or 90s, which is really strong population growth, at least since 2010."

Gallatin’s percentage increase amounts to about 22,400 people. Flathead and Richland Counties each grew about 12 percent. Missoula, Lewis and Clark, and Yellowstone Counties all grew more than 8 percent.

To add some perspective, Ward says the average county in the U.S. grew by about 1 percent between 2010 and 2018.

Ward says this population estimate data, which comes out each year, acts as a checkup for economic health between the big censuses.

"When you go to the doctor they’ll take your temperature and weigh you and measure you and get your blood pressure and all that kind of stuff. Population change is kind of that level of an indicator for the health of a local economy."

Eighteen Montana counties lost population since 2010. Toole County saw the biggest drop, almost 9 percent, and Prairie County went down almost 8 percent. Ward says economic health, job availability, housing costs and quality of life can all affect the number of people moving into areas. 

The most recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau puts Montana’s population at just over 1,062,000 people.