FAQ City: How Many Charlotteans Are Native?

Aug 27, 2019

Native Charlotteans are sometimes described as unicorns — so rare they also seem mystical. Transplants, on the other hand, seem far more common, and one WFAE listener says it feels like their numbers have grown considerably in the last decade.

That listener, Garrett Cooperman, is a transplant himself. He and his family moved here from New York about 13 years ago, and when he first arrived, he went out in search of a good pizza joint that served New York-style pizza (thin crust, wide slices, lots of mozzarella).

He didn't find much those first few years, but then things changed.

"Over time, I've noticed there have been more really good pizza places that have sprung up," he says, "and then recently, I found a bagel shop that directly imports their bagels from a bagel shop I used to frequent back home."

That seemed to suggest more people from New York had moved into the area. On top of that, he says he kept meeting newcomers who've moved here from other parts of the Northeast or the Midwest. So, he wrote in to FAQ City with the following question about Charlotte's demographics:

"What proportion of Charlotte residents do native Charlotteans make up, and how fast have people flocked here over time?"

Natives And Newcomers

As it turns out, this is a difficult question to answer, in part because the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't track what city people were born in.

However, the Census does track the state where people were born, which means while we can't calculate the number of native Charlotteans living here, we can find the number of native North Carolinians. That doesn't give us a precise answer to Garrett's question, but at least it gets us close.

So how many native North Carolinians live in Charlotte? According to most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the answer is 41%.

That's not a lot. In comparison, the national average of people living in their home state is 58%, which means Charlotte is definitely a transient city.

That's not to say there aren't pockets of natives here and there. The Census finds their presence is stronger in many of the towns skirting the city — places like Concord, Belmont and Gastonia.

And if you break Charlotte down into smaller sections, you'll find the two ZIP codes with the highest concentrations of natives are 28208 and 28206. That's west Charlotte and north Charlotte, both at roughly 60% native.

The two ZIP codes with the lowest percentage of natives, meanwhile, are 28202 and 28277 - aka uptown Charlotte and Ballantyne. Both are less than 30% native.

Changes Over Time

You might think because the percentage of native North Carolinians is so low in Charlotte, their numbers are in decline, but a closer look shows otherwise.

In actuality, the number of native North Carolinians in Charlotte has been rising an average 2.2% every year since 2007, and that's consistent with the rising number of natives across the state.

"At a statewide level, North Carolina is what we call a 'sticky state,' in that people who were born here tend to stay here," says UNC Chapel Hill researcher Rebecca Tippet.

She conducted research in 2014 that found 72% of adults born in North Carolina are still living here, making us one of the stickiest states in the nation.

"We actually had the second highest rate of adult residents staying in the state of their birth," she says. "Texas is the only state that had a higher rate than we did."

Native North Carolinians overwhelmingly love their home state, she says. They've just been increasingly outnumbered by all the newcomers pouring into the city, whose numbers are growing an average 2.7% per year.

Growing Pains

The top three places to move to Charlotte from, according to the Census, are the Northeast, the South and Latin America, and Tippet says many of the newcomers are young and looking for work.

"Mecklenburg has a large influx of individuals 25 to 29 moving in," she says. "It looks a lot like a post-college destination."

They're driven here by jobs and family, lower home prices and the temperate(-ish) climate. While they're bringing lots of new skills and ideas, they're also causing the city some real growing pains.

Longtime residents will tell you how awful the traffic has become over the last decade, and rents and home prices have been jumping in recent years as demand rises higher and higher.

Ely Portillo with UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute says these are real problems that need addressing, but at the same time, we should acknowledge how a growing population is also benefiting our city.

Think of the new cultural institutions, sports teams, breweries and other outdoor activities that have sprouted up over the last decade, and consider our increasing diversity as more people move here from elsewhere in the country and the world.

"Almost one in six people who live in Charlotte now are foreign-born immigrants, and with that comes a lot of diversity in terms of culture, in terms of food, in terms of vibrancy in the community," he says. "This is not a monochromatic city in some ways like it was 50 or 60 years ago."

So, in review, our question-asker, Garrett, was exactly right in thinking a lot of people in Charlotte are not from here. But our native population is doing just fine, and their numbers are growing, and together, we're all benefiting from new cultures, ideas, foods, and — oh, yes — delicious New York-style pizza.

Do you have a question about Charlotte's people, culture or history? Let us know! Submit your question in the box below, and we may be in touch.

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Corrected Aug. 28, 2019 - A previous version of this web story incorrectly reported the 28277 zip code as 20277.

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