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New population estimates show Tennessee still is the 16th most populous state, but it’s now within 63,000 people of 15th-ranked Massachusetts.

The Tennessee State Data Center—housed in the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—analyzed the US Census Bureau data released earlier this month. The data shows Tennessee’s estimated population on July 1, 2019, at 6,829,174—an increase of 57,543, or 0.85 percent, since the same date in 2018. That’s a slightly lower rate of annual growth than the 0.94 percent recorded for the state in 2017 and 2018 but still higher than the US as a whole.

The national population increased just 0.45 percent to 328 million, marking the fourth straight year of declining growth after steady 0.75 percent increases through the first half of the decade.

Declining fertility rates and a growing number of deaths were leading factors in the slower growth, accompanied by decreases in net international migration rates—or the number of people moving to Tennessee from outside the US.

Rate of annual population change

The population growth in Tennessee last year was the ninth largest in the country. Four other southeastern states—including Florida (2nd), North Carolina (4th), Georgia (5th), and South Carolina (8th)—joined Tennessee to round out the 10 states with the largest gains. Forty states logged population increases last year.

Net domestic migration, or the number of people moving into and out of the state, accounted for about 63 percent of the gains, or 36,009 people. That number shrank for the second year, but Tennessee fared well considering the record low percentages of people moving in the US last year.

“Tennessee’s population growth has become more dependent on people moving into the state,” said Tim Kuhn, director of the Tennessee State Data Center. “But migration is also more volatile, and some of the year-to-year fluctuations in the population estimates may become less predictable.”

Components of Tennessee population change

Within the state, other components of population change held steady last year. International migration netted 9,263 more Tennessee residents, exceeding the decade-long average increase of 8,700. Natural change, or the difference between the number of births and deaths in the state, rose slightly.

In March, county population estimates are expected to be released, followed by new data for incorporated areas.

Estimates used to allocate block grants for social programs

The annual estimates for each state are currently based on the results of the 2010 federal census and supplemented with data from various state and federal agencies. This highlights the importance of the upcoming 2020 census, which will hit mailboxes in mid-March.

“The importance of a complete and accurate count of the state’s population in the 2020 census can’t be overstated,” Kuhn said. “Miscounts of the state’s population in 2020 will carry forward through the entire decade. The effect of each person missed is compounded year after year through decreased representation and lost funding for the cities, counties, and the state.”

Each annual population estimate carries big funding implications for states and determines allocation of social services block grants, which last year totaled nearly $1.6 billion. A 2019 George Washington University study found that these block grants were the only federal program relying entirely on population estimates for its distribution formula.

In fiscal year 2017, Tennessee received $34.5 million from the program, with the funding used to provide services for vulnerable children and adults. The Tennessee Department of Human Services distributes the funds to regional agencies across the state for adoption support, child and adult day care, counseling services, and meals.

The Tennessee State Data Center serves as Tennessee’s delegate to a federal-state cooperative program providing data used in developing the annual updates.


Erin Hatfield (865-974-6086,

Tim Kuhn (865-974-6070,​