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Population Shifts Remake National Map

New study shows Atlanta, Seattle, Houston metro areas expanding, as traditional growth areas shrink

WANT to live in a booming city? Then you probably should head south or west in the United States to enjoy the highest rate of population growth - especially in cities like Las Vegas, Nev., and Punta Gorda, Fla.

There is an exception, though. You could steer your moving van far north to Anchorage, Alaska, which is growing at a quicker pace than even rapidly expanding places like Orlando, Fla., and Seattle.

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Jacksonville, N.C., on the other hand, earns the distinction as the fastest-shrinking metropolitan area in the US. It lost an average of 3.2 percent of its population in both 1990 and 1991.

The latest analysis of US population data was released today by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a nonprofit educational organization in Washington.

Carl Haub, a PRB demographer who conducted the study with Anne Lang, says the biggest surprise was the slowdown in some traditional growth areas, like Los Angeles. The L.A. area, which grew at 1.6 percent a year, now is being easily outpaced by other metro areas such as Atlanta, Seattle, and Houston.

Another new development was the sharp setback suffered by the high-tech area encompassing Boston, southern New Hampshire, southern Maine, and northern Connecticut. The slump triggered a 0.4 percent annual decline in population for this metropolitan area, the nation's seventh largest. It was the largest drop in any major urban area.

The study indicates that many trends prevalent during the past several decades are continuing. That includes a rush by Americans to coastal communities of Florida such as Fort Meyers, Daytona Beach, Naples, and Port St. Lucie, and to similarly warm locales like Yuma, Ariz., Las Cruces, N.M., and Houston.

The fastest-growing city in America during the two-year period was Las Vegas, Nev., whose metropolitan area now extends into Arizona. It grew by 6.5 percent a year.

Punta Gorda and Naples, both in Florida, and Laredo, Texas, all tied for second with a 3.9 percent growth rate. Other top growth spots included Redding, Calif., and Boise City, Idaho, (tied for fifth at 3.7 percent), and two California cities, Modesto and Bakersfield (tied for seventh at 3.4 percent). Yuma, Ariz., (3.3 percent) was ninth, and three metro areas tied for 10th - McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Anchorage, Alaska; and Bellingham, Wash. - all at 3.2 percent.

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If you enjoy living shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors, the place to be is Jersey City, N.J., the study says. The city packs in 11,850 people per square mile, the nation's highest density. If you want an urban area with lots of space, try Casper, Wyo., with just 12 people per square mile.

The study found that Albany, Ga., has the highest percentage of black Americans, at 46 percent. Other ``mosts'' include Laredo, Texas, which is 94 percent Hispanic, and Wausau, Wis., at 98.5 percent white.

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