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A 50 year shift to Virginia's suburbs likely to move to the exurbs next

In the last 50 years, Fairfax County saw the largest population increase in Virginia. During that same time, Norfolk saw the largest population decline.

Hamilton Lombard at UVA's Weldon Cooper Center says 50 years ago, Norfolk was Virginia's largest city.

"Cities around the country typically lost population from a combination of de-industrialization, factories moving out and moving overseas, losing jobs and then just suburbanization. You just have to go right next door where Virginia's largest city is now, which is Virginia Beach," Lombard points out. "That was a suburb that really benefited from a lot of people moving out of Norfolk."

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Mark Mather at the Population Reference Bureau says the next 50 years are not going to have the same trends.

"If you look at more recent data from 2020 to 2021, you do get a different picture," Mather said. "The population has really slowed down across the board and a lot of it is pandemic driven. So it's now places like Spotsylvania and Frederick."

As technology makes telework more of a reality, demographers say, workers will move farther out into the exurbs. So places like Fairfax County might end up losing population in the next 50 years.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.