American Cities That Are Running Out Of People

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5. Dayton, OH

Population: 153,843

Population Change 2000-2009: -11,961

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -7.21%

Home Vacancy: 18.9%

For its size, Dayton, Ohio was once one of the most productive and creative cities in the U.S. It produced more patents per capita at the turn of the century than any other. The city was home to several former great Fortune 500 companies, including National Cash Register, Mead Paper and Phillips Manufacturing. Through the first half of the 20th century, Dayton had one of the healthiest manufacturing industries. It had more GM autoworkers than any city outside of Michigan during World War II. In the past 50 years, Mead has merged with West Virginia Paper and moved to Richmond, and GM has closed one plant after another in the city.

4. Buffalo, NY

Population: 270,240

Population Change 2000-2009: -21,970

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -7.52%

Home Vacancy: 17.2%

Another victim of the Erie Canal boom and bust, Buffalo was the 13th largest city in the country just before WW II. It is now the 70th. Like Rochester, the city was once a premier mill town due to its location to the canal. Massive electricity generation from Niagara Falls improved Buffalo’s industrial capacity, and the city referred to itself as the “City of Lights” for a time because of its power production. The collapse of the canal and improvements in the energy industry which made Niagara Falls less important led to the mass migration from the city which continues to this day. In the 1970’s alone, Buffalo lost more than 100,000 residents, roughly a third of its current population.

3. Cleveland, OH

Population: 431,369

Population Change 2000-2009: -45,205

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -9.49%

Home Vacancy: 17.5%

Cleveland, the largest city on our list, was once a thriving manufacturing center, as well as an important point of trade because of its connection to several key routes particularly Lake Erie. The city was once home to a sizable auto industry. Most of the largest companies which were once based in Cleveland no longer exist. These include Peerless, People’s and Winton. Cleveland also served as headquarters for John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, as well as a key import location for coal and iron shipped from the South and Midwest. The decline of industrial American has hit the city particularly hard, and poverty, a default on municipal debt in the 70’s, and pollution have earned the city the nickname “the mistake on the lake.”   In 1948, the city had over 910,000 people; it now has less than half of that.

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2. Flint, MI

Population: 111,475

Population Change 2000-2009: -13,266

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -10.63%

Home Vacancy: 18%

While most of the cities on this list are here as the result of a general decline in industry, Flint’s woes have come almost entirely from one sector – the auto industry. Flint became a boomtown at the turn of the century as it became a divisional headquarters to the major American auto manufacturers, including Chevrolet, Buick, and General Motors. Between 1910 and 1930, the population had more than quadrupled due to the success of the American car business. Since the American auto industry began its decline in the 1980’s, Flint has consistently lost at least 10% of its population each decade. Massive layoffs and plant closings have devastated the city, and unemployment rates remain well into the double digits.

1. New Orleans, LA

Population: 354,850

Population Change 2000-2009: -128,813

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -26.63%

Home Vacancy: 21.5%

New Orleans is unique in that its presence on this list is not due to industrial decline, but from natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of the city, caused by some estimates more than $80 billion in damage, and displaced tens of thousands of residents. The period of widespread homelessness, severe crime, and slow recovery has left the city as a shadow of its former self. While people are trickling back into the city, many will likely never return, and the city has lost more than a quarter of its population in just ten years.

-Michael B. Sauter