Jobs Driving More People to Cities Facing Risks of Climate Change, Census Shows

Searing weather due to climate change has not deterred Americans from finding jobs in already arid places, findings from the 2020 Census last month revealed, according to the Associated Press.

According to the report, business investments in the desert Southwest expanded by more than twice the national average every decade between 1950 and 2010. Job opportunities continued to increase desert-area residents, with health care job growth leading the way.

In early September, Phoenix temperatures were still climbing to 111 degrees as climate change has made the nation's fifth-largest city even hotter. Some 300 miles away in Las Vegas, the thermometer hit 106 degrees. Phoenix and Las Vegas are two of the five fastest-growing areas in the U.S.

As the desert population increases, more people are put at risk of climate change-related natural disasters like flooding, wildfires and heat waves.

"Until people recognize that extreme heat is a critical problem, we are not going to see critical changes," said Eva Olivas, executive director of the nonprofit Phoenix Revitalization Corp.

Often, those who are at greatest risk for disasters like heat waves are people who are poor and in racially diverse communities.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Climate deters people from living in Southwest
Searing weather due to climate change has not deterred Americans from finding jobs in already arid places. Above, a man waits at a bus stop as the sun sets September 10, 2021, in Las Vegas. John Locher/AP Photo

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths, triggering heat strokes, heart attacks and kidney failures, especially in desert locales where people don't always realize they are overheated because sweat dries rapidly in the arid air.

More than one-third of the world's annual heat deaths are due directly to global warming, according to a study published in May in the journal Nature Climate Change. It included about 200 U.S. cities and found over 1,100 yearly deaths from climate change-caused heat, many in the East and Midwest, where many homes lack air conditioning.

In the West, Phoenix's Maricopa County recorded 323 heat-related deaths in 2020, and Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, had 82.

The rising death tolls are challenging governments to protect vulnerable populations and to ensure there is enough water for everyone as the drought and increasingly hot summers drain reservoirs fed by the Colorado River.

Those challenges will only grow as cities keep attracting more people.

Maricopa County's population jumped 15.8 percent over the past decade to 4.4 million as people undeterred by rising temperatures fled more expensive areas like California. Not only was Phoenix the fastest-expanding U.S. city with 11.2 percent growth, the Census confirmed its status as the fifth-largest, surpassing Philadelphia's 1.603 million, with 1.608 million people.

The increase in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, got a big push from residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino, who comprise more than 30 percent of the population.

Environmental activist Cinthia Moore said she has watched Clark County's population explode as more people move to southern Nevada, even as her largely Latino East Las Vegas neighborhood endures more frequent heat waves.

"People here don't walk outside in the heat unless they have to," said Moore, Nevada organizer for the group Moms Clean Air Force.

Moore said the heat is especially hard on low-income renters who cannot install solar panels to save energy costs and must rely on landlords to fix broken air conditioners.