Western states are big places with a lot of open space. That’s why many of us live out here: easy access to the great outdoors, great recreation, huge vistas… the list goes on. But most of us don’t live in a log cabin out on the prairie or windswept alpine ridges. We live in cities and towns, with neighborhoods, grocery stores and subcultures a healthy drive from the rivers and ranges that you find in a postcard rack.
Matter of fact, where do the people of the west live? Here we’ve split out one half of the population of Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming a few different ways.
These maps were created with data from the census and the American Community Survey, and they are resolved at the census block group level.
In a region known for sprawl, half of the population of each western state is still concentrated in tight clusters around urban areas. In fact, half of the over 8 million people living in these western states are clustered on only 1,200 square miles, that’s about .3% of the land area within these four states.
The west is young. The median age in these four states is 30.5, compared with the national median of 36.8. The youngest half of the population in our region lives primarily in and around the urban centers; which is not too big a surprise given that many of the universities and career opportunities in the west are concentrated in those population centers.
The highest median incomes in the west are not in major urban centers, nor in the remote corners of the region. Interestingly, they are most clearly concentrated in the areas around urban centers. This holds true in the larger metropolitan regions like Denver and Boise, as well as the highly polished enclaves like Jackson Hole.
What is going on here? After all, home values are typically higher in city centers. Are the wealthy people NOT in-fact moving back towards urban cores, as the “demographic inversion” theory suggests?
We think it is possible that data and demographics haven’t caught up with the rising popularity of downtown living. However, the driving force behind this trend may be the distribution of renters versus owners. Renters, who generally have lower incomes than owners, overwhelmingly live in city centers and they push the median income in those regions downwards.