Census Bureau: 3 largest US cities shrink, mid-sized cities grow

Source: Smart Cities Dive | Katie Pyzk | April 22, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau released population data from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018 that shows population dips in the country's three largest cities — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — but increases in a number of mid-sized cities. The rest of the top 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas — Dallas/Ft. Worth; Houston; Washington, DC; Miami/Ft. Lauderdale; Philadelphia; Atlanta; and Boston — all experienced some growth.

  • The Census Bureau notes that growth trends were most prevalent in the South and the West. The 10 metro areas adding the most new residents from 2017 to 2018 are Dallas/Ft. Worth; Phoenix, AZ; Houston; Atlanta; Orlando, FL; Seattle/Tacoma, WA; Austin, TX; Riverside/San Bernardino, CA; Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL; and Washington, DC.

  • Despite some cities experiencing population shifts, no new metro areas replaced existing ones on the list of top 10 largest U.S. cities. 

Dive Insight:

Of the 390 metro areas in the United States and Puerto Rico, 26.2% experienced population declines from 2017 to 2018. Even though the three largest U.S. cities lost residents, the losses were slight and the rate of loss was much slower compared to other areas. The five fastest-shrinking metro areas are Charleston, WV; Pine Bluff, AR; Farmington, NM; Danville, IL; and Watertown/Ft. Drum, NY.

"One interesting trend we are seeing this year is that metro areas not among the most populous are ranked in the top 10 for population growth,” said Sandra Johnson, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Population Division, in a statement.

The Census Bureau's statistics are valuable to illustrate population shifts, but they can be controversial. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio refuted the numbers, explaining that his city has not lost residents since its population record of 8.4 million in 2017, but the Census Bureau altered its data-gathering methodology. De Blasio said that instead, the city continues its steady growth.

In December, Census Bureau data noted that the overall U.S. population only grew by 0.6% from 2017 to 2018, its lowest rate of growth since 1937. It reflects a general trend of slowing or stagnating population growth for the past several decades.

Analysts often focus more on causation rather than raw numbers with population shifts. For example, Crain's Chicago Business explains that Chicago is among the cities with an aging population that's dying or moving away faster than births are occurring. Immigration also plays a role; Chicago traditionally is a haven for immigrants — especially from Mexico in recent years — but politics and economics have slowed the flow of immigrants to the city. 

Determining causation can help cities with population decreases determine how to retain citizens in the future. While not much can be done about people moving to more favorable climates, moves to escape a high cost of living or crime can be taken into consideration to improve city policies, operations and services.

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