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Utah just crossed a significant threshold: It now has just over 2.9 million residents — barely, according to estimates released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The exact number, as of July 1, was 2,900,872.

That is an increase of 46,001 people in a year, the equivalent of adding a city the size of Murray.

Utah was the second-fastest growing state in the nation over the past year with a growth rate of 1.6 percent — which demographers say is a sign that Utah's economy is recovering faster than other states and starting to attract immigrants again.

Utah's rate was behind only North Dakota, which has an oil boom and a whopping 3.14 percent growth. Utah more than doubled the national growth rate of 0.72 percent, and was 45 percent above the worldwide growth rate of 1.1 percent last year, according to the Census Bureau.

Demographers say the main reason for Utah's big growth is its top-in-the-nation birth rate.

"Our increase shows strong natural growth," or more births than deaths, said Juliette Tennert, the Utah state demographer.

While the Census Bureau has not yet released its data about how much of the growth is from births and how much is from immigration, University of Utah senior research economist Pam Perlich said recent state birth and death trends suggest the state likely had net in-migration of about 10,000 during the year.

"This really shows me that we are on the move again and that's great" after years of near-zero in-migration, she said.

"It shows the relative strength of Utah's economy," Tennert said.

Perlich added, "It's a pretty major indication that the recession has bottomed out here." While the new net in-migration is nothing like the net 25,000 to 30,000 people Utah had before the recession, "it's positive" and well above recent years.

"People are moving here with the anticipation of economic and educational opportunity. We've got a relatively strong job market," she said. "It has to make the home builders happy."

Perlich said the in-migration is an indication of long-term stability.

"When people move here they are basically betting on us to be a good place with long-range possibilities. People don't just move because things would be good for six months. They move because they are betting their lives and future on a place."

The 1.6 percent growth also is an acceleration, Perlich added, noting it had been at 1.4 percent or lower in recent years.

The Census Bureau on Monday also projected that the United States will have a New Year's Day population of 317.3 million, up by 2.2 million in a year.

It projects the worldwide population will be 7.14 billion, up by 77.6 million in a year.

It said that in January, the United States expects one birth to occur every 8 seconds and one death every 12 seconds. Worldwide, it expects 4.3 births and 1.8 deaths every second.

India added 15.6 million people over the past year, which led all countries, according to the Census. Following were China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

Utah's population

2013 • 2,900,872

2012 • 2,854,871

Increase • 46,001, up 1.6%