Texas led the nation by saying howdy to more than 400,000 new residents in a year, continuing a boom that has seen the Lone Star State add more than 5 million people in just over a decade, according to population estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

But, surprisingly, it was North Dakota, fueled by that traditional Texas staple of oil and gas, that grew the fastest over the latest measured period, from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012.

North Dakota's population climbed 2.17 percent, nearly three times greater than the nation as a whole.

Still, North Dakota's entire population of 699,628 barely tops the total number of newcomers to Texas, which counted 427,400 new people during the period.

The new data shows that the nation is growing a bit after struggling during the recession, although the growth rate remains stuck at levels not seen since the Great Depression.

"After decades of wars, a depression, immigration surges, baby booms, boomlets and busts, we are entering a new era of modest growth," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the numbers.

"This is a result of our aging population, lower fertility rates and immigration levels that will probably not produce sharp population spikes."

After North Dakota, the top growth rates were in the District of Columbia (2.15 percent), Texas (1.67 percent), Wyoming (1.6 percent), Utah (1.45 percent) and Nevada (1.43 percent).

"It's something we've never seen before. North Dakota has always been near the bottom. It had been losing population for a long time," said demographer Mark Mather of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Population Reference Bureau.

An oil and gas boom flipped the trend in North Dakota, which ranked 37th in growth rate between 2000 and 2010.

"People go where the jobs are," Mather said.

Landman Steve Sullivan, a longtime Fort Worth resident, is living that adage.

He has followed booms from the Barnett Shale in North Texas to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to the Bakken play in Dickinson, N.D., a town of 18,499 that grew by 4 percent from April 2010 to July 2011, according to census data.

Sullivan spent 18 months living in a North Dakota hotel before finally snagging an apartment in August, slashing his monthly housing costs from $3,500 to $2,000.

"It's really hard to find accommodations. There's a one-year waiting list for apartments," he said.

"They are throwing up things here right and left. There's not just an oil and gas boom; there's a construction boom," Sullivan said, adding that three hotels have opened in 18 months and that five more are under construction.

"Lots of people are living in RVs, but that's tough because they don't have enough insulation. It's cold here and the wind makes it brutal. I wake up every morning and it is 5 degrees," he said.

When it comes to raw numbers, Texas has everyone beat, and demographers point to the state's economy as one reason.

Dallas-Fort Worth is one of three U.S. metropolitan areas that have fully recovered from the Great Recession, according to a report released this month by the Brookings Institution.

No "silver bullet" industry fueled the Metroplex's recovery. Credit a thriving service sector that was growing hand in hand with a healthy energy sector, said Emilia Istrate, a senior research associate with Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program.

Texas added more people than No. 2 California (357,500) and almost outgrew Nos. 3 to 5 combined — Florida (235,300), Georgia (107,500) and North Carolina (101,000).

Those five states accounted for more than half the nation's total growth of 2.3 million over the 12 months.

The figures show annual changes through births, deaths, and domestic and foreign migration.

"Texas is still the population winner," Mather said. "It's still growing extremely rapidly, especially for a state that size."

"I think there's some momentum when you have been growing for a while. Young people are the ones that move, and then they start having kids," he said.

From April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2012, Texas added 913,642 people. Since 2000, it has grown by 5.2 million.

California remains the most populous state, with 38 million people, followed by Texas (26.1 million), New York (19.6 million), Florida (19.3 million) and Illinois (12.9 million).

The only states to lose population in the latest reporting period were Rhode Island (minus 354 people) and Vermont (minus 581).

The nation as a whole grew by 0.75 percent, to 313.9 million.

The population continues to get older as baby boomers age and fewer people are in their childbearing years.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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