In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the disappearance of over 113,000 people in Fulton County in a single year, at least on paper.
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Estimated population growth, 2010-2012
County Census ARC
Fulton 57,190 15,519
Gwinnett 36,725 17,779
Cobb 19,366 11,422
DeKalb 15,196 8,807
Cherokee 6,969 6,454
Clayton 6,464 2,876
Rockdale 605 885
Henry 5,131 5,578
Douglas 1,568 1,497
Fayette 957 933
A tale of two methods
Both the Census Bureau and the Atlanta Regional Commission start with the county’s total population as determined by the latest 10-year census count. From there, their methodologies diverge.
Factors the census uses in calculating its estimates are birth and death records and IRS tax return data, which serve as an indicator of how many people moved into and out of each county.
ARC also uses birth and death records, but it does not have access to the latest IRS data. Instead, it looks at the number of building permits issued, plus postal records, which indicate how many housing units are occupied and how many are vacant.
How we got the story
When the U.S. Census released its latest county-level population estimates, AJC reporters found it intriguing that Fulton County appeared to be growing faster than Gwinnett. But the plot thickened when we compared those numbers to estimates by the Atlanta Regional Commission and found wide discrepancies. This story examines why the numbers diverge so much and the potential consequences of the gap.