Special Report

America's Fastest Shrinking Cities

The U.S. population rose by just 0.72% in 2013, the lowest growth rate in more than 70 years. Not only has the country become less-attractive to immigrants than in years past, with net immigration down from nearly 1.2 million as of 2001 to 843,145 last year, but also the U.S.’s domestic birth rate has dropped to a multi-decade low.

While the population of most of the country’s metro areas grew at a low pace in recent years, in a small number of metro areas the population actually shrank. Looking at the most recent years, the U.S. population rose by just 2.4% between April 2010 and July 2013, but in 30 metro areas the population shrank by at least 1%. The population in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, fell a nation-leading 4.4% in that time. Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. examined the cities with shrinking populations.

Click here to see America’s Fastest Shrinking Cities

Most of the metro areas with the largest declines in populations have been shrinking for decades.The total population of Cambria County, Pennsylvania — which makes up the Johnstown metro area — has fallen 34% between 1940 and 2013. Allegany County, Maryland — the central county of the Cumberland, Maryland metro area — peaked in population during the 1950 Census. The county’s population has since fallen by 18%, according to the Census Bureau’s 2013 population estimates.

In many of these areas, long-term drops in manufacturing jobs are tied to specific industries. The Youngstown, Ohio; Weirton, West Virginia; and Johnstown, Pennsylvania metro areas were all once home to major employers in the steel industry. Each of these areas lost many of the jobs these businesses once supported. Similarly, automotive factory closures have hurt the Saginaw, Michigan and Mansfield, Ohio metro areas.

Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, told 24/7 Wall St. that industry declines and job losses can lead to population declines. “It’s entirely plausible that the loss of jobs in a specific industry sector could be be the driving force in that kind of decline,” he said.

Of course, manufacturing jobs have declined nearly 30% in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013. However, in eight of the areas with shrinking populations, the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector fell by more than the nationwide decline, according to figures produced by Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI). Flint, Michigan, lost the most jobs in the sector as manufacturing employment declined 57% from 2001 to 2013.

In general, these areas suffered from weak job markets overall. In Pine Bluff, the metro area with the single greatest loss of residents, the unemployment rate at the end of last year was more than 10%, among the highest in the country. Similarly, Flint, Saginaw, and Carson City, Nevada, all had unemployment rates of at least 9% in December 2013, well above the national rate of 6.7%

According to Johnson, young people leaving the area in order to look for work have driven the population decline for many industrial metro areas in the Midwest. “As a result, you would lose not only the young adults themselves but, over time, the children they would have produced.”

The loss in younger residents has also lead to a higher median age in these areas. “You would have a higher death-to-birth ratio because there aren’t as many births, but also because an aging population has higher mortality risk,” said Johnson. In 2012, six of the metro areas with the largest declines had populations with a median age of at least 40 years, older than the national median age of 37.4. A typical Johnstown resident was 44 years old.

While most of these areas had long-term, steady declines in population, the decline in Carson City and Farmington was more recent. Since 1940, San Juan County, New Mexico, the central county in Farmington, and Carson City, Nevada have grown 639% and 1,585%, respectively.

“I think its important to make a distinction between these shorter-term population trends in the 2010 to 2013 period and these longer-term trends that have hurt these older, industrial areas in the Midwest,” noted Johnson.

Based on recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. examined changes in population for 381 metropolitan statistical areas from April 2010 through July 2013. We also considered figures from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. We reviewed population figures from each decennial Census since 1940, using each area’s largest county as a proxy for the metro area. Data on incomes and price levels, current as of 2012 and 2011, respectively, are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Figures on home price changes are from the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) House Price Index and are current as of the end of 2013. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for December of each year from 2010 to 2013 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Estimates for gross metropolitan product are from IHS Global Insight. EMSI data on changes in total jobs, as well as manufacturing and construction jobs, between 2001 and 2013 were also considered.

These are America’s shrinking cities.

10. Saginaw, Mich.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -1.81% (tied, 10th highest)
> Population change from peak (1980): -13.8%
> Unemployment: 9.0% (42nd highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -1.2% (25th lowest)

The Saginaw metro area’s population fell by 1.8% between 2010 and 2013, largely due to people leaving the area. A net total of 4,393 people moved out of the area during those years. The area’s auto manufacturing sector and supporting industries have shrank in recent decades. A number of General Motors factories in the county have closed down over the years with only one remaining today, Saginaw Metal Casting Operations. While manufacturing employment has recovered slightly in recent years, Saginaw’s unemployment rate of 9% at the end of last year was still well above the national rate of 6.7%. Incomes were also quite low in the area, where per capita personal income was slightly more than $33,000 in 2012, versus more than $45,000 nationwide.

9. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Penn.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -1.81% (tied, 10th highest)
> Population change from peak (1970): -22.9%
> Unemployment: 8.1% (tied-75th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -0.4% (tied, 57th lowest)

Mahoning County, Ohio, the largest in the Youngstown metro area, lost 23% of its population since its peak in 1970. The metro area’s population was decimated when a major source of jobs, the steel industry, began to get leaner and shut down factories in the 1970s and 1980s. Sections of the city became so sparsely populated over the past three decades that, in 2002, the administration revealed a plan to move residents from low-population areas to other neighborhoods within the city — although many residents were unwilling to move. Jobs in manufacturing have continued to diminish in recent years as well, falling by 37% between 2001 and 2013 — although manufacturing continued to account for an outsized portion of all jobs. Recently, the area’s economy has struggled, with GMP shrinking by 0.4% last year, even as the U.S. economy grew 1.9%.

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8. Weirton-Steubenville, W. Va.-Ohio
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -1.98%
> Population change from peak (1960): -31.5%
> Unemployment: 8.9% (45th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -2.6% (5th lowest)

From 1960 to 2013, the population in Jefferson County, Ohio, the largest county in the Weirton metro area, declined by 31.5%. Like many of the fastest shrinking areas in the U.S., the Weirton metro area’s population once relied on the U.S. steel industry for jobs. In 2007, Weirton Steel Corp. plant was closed, ending the production of steel at a company that had once been a major part of the city’s identity. In 2012, 19% of the area’s population were senior citizens, and the median age was 43.8 years old, making the area one of the oldest in the U.S. From 2010 to 2013, the area lost nearly 2% of its population, largely due to natural factors, as deaths outnumbered births by more than 1,800.

7. Cumberland, Md.-W. Va.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.0%
> Population change from peak (1950):-17.9%
> Unemployment: 7.1% (141st lowest)
> GMP change, 2013: +0.5% (141st lowest)

Factories run by Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG), Allegany Munitions and Kelly Springfield Tire once employed many Cumberland area residents. While PPG is still a Fortune 500 company, it ceased manufacturing in Cumberland in 1981, and the Kelly Springfield Tire plant closed in 1987. Allegany Munitions, now called Alliant Technologies, still employed more than 1,400 people in the area as of 2012. Not surprisingly, a weak economy may contribute to the area’s population decline. The area’s GMP grew by only an estimated 0.5% in 2013, well below the 1.9% national GDP growth. Cumberland city officials have initiated a plan to construct multi-family housing as an attempt to reverse the decline. The plan includes upgrades to the city’s infrastructure, including schools and roads.

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6. Carson City, Nev.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.16%
> Population change from peak (2000): +3.1%
> Unemployment: 9.5% (28th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -1.3% (22nd lowest)

The Carson City metro area experienced considerable outward migration between 2010 and 2013. In that time, nearly 1,000 residents left the area, which had a population of slightly more than 54,000 last year. Natural population growth was also negative, as deaths outnumbered births in every year from 2010 onward. The significant population decline was likely due in part to the area’s poor economy. The area’s unemployment rate was among the worst in the country, at 9.5%, as was the decline in home prices over the five years prior to the end of 2013. Also, personal income barely grew between 2010 and 2012, rising just 2.2% a year, among the lowest growth rates in the nation.Still, people may return to the area if the economy improves. An October 2013 report by the Nevada State Demographer’s Office projects that Carson City’s population will begin growing in the future.

5. Mansfield, Ohio
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.17%
> Population change from peak (1980): -7.2%
> Unemployment: 8.1% (tied-75th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -0.4% (tied-57th lowest)

Mansfield was hit hard by the bankruptcy of General Motors in 2009 when GM closed its plant in the area. The plant was the area’s biggest employer at the time with more than 400 workers. Nearly 3,000 more people moved out of the area than people moved in between 2010 and 2013, one of the largest outward migrations in the country over that time frame. The area’s unemployment rate was 8.1% in December 2013, higher than the U.S. unemployment rate of 6.7%. Mansfield’s economy shrank by 0.4% in 2013, even as national output grew by 1.9%. The area’s poor economy and the city’s inability to generate sufficient funds from taxes, led the Mansfield city school district to declare a state of fiscal emergency in December.

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4. Johnstown, Penn.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.21%
> Population change from peak (1940): -34.2%
> Unemployment: 8.1% (tied-75th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -1.1% (29th lowest)

A falling population is hardly a new trend in the Johnstown area, which consists of Pennsylvania’s Cambria County. Since 1940, when the county’s population topped 213,000 people, the number of residents in Cambria County has dropped in every decade. Johnstown’s population fell from 143,677 in 2010 to less than 140,500 last year. A portion of this was attributable to migration, as net 1,600 residents moved out of the area during that time. As of 2012, Johnstown’s population was among the nation’s oldest, with a median age of 44.1, while more than 19% of the population were senior citizens, among the highest in the U.S. The area was once a major steel maker, and before that it was a major source of coal. Bethlehem Steel alone accounted for more than 11,000 jobs in the area during the 1970s, according to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. The Fortune 500 company, which no longer exists, permanently closed its Johnstown plant in 1992.

3. Flint, Mich.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.45%
> Population change from peak (1980): -7.8%
> Unemployment: 9.8% (25th highest)
> GMP change, 2013: +1.4% (135th highest)

Flint — known for its manufacturing industry — is still feeling the effects of General Motor’s 2009 bankruptcy. While the company was rescued by the government, numerous, less profitable GM facilities were still liquidated, many of which were located in Flint. Nearly 10% of the workforce was unemployed as of December 2013, among the worst rates in the nation. The poor work climate may be contributing to the city’s exodus. Flint’s population was 415,376 last year, down 2.45% from April 2010, most of which can be explained by migration. Much of this decline occurred between mid 2011 and mid 2012, when the city’s population dropped by nearly 4,000, the largest nominal decline nationwide over that time.

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2. Farmington, N.M.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -2.72%
> Population change from peak (2010): -2.8%
> Unemployment: 6.4% (163rd lowest)
> GMP change, 2013: -1.4% (18th lowest)

While most metro areas with declining populations have been shrinking for a while, Farmington’s population was actually growing until recently. Nearly 7,000 more people moved out of Farmington than moved in between 2010 and 2013, among the highest outward migrations in the nation over that period. While the area’s 6.4% unemployment rate at the end of 2013 was below the U.S. unemployment rate, the area’s per capita personal income was $33,092 in 2012, among the lowest in the country. The area’s economy has also contracted for two consecutive years, shrinking 2.2% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013 — both among the largest drops in the nation. However, the area is experiencing a spike in oil investment. This could provide a boost to the Farmington economy and lure people to the area.

1. Pine Bluff, Ark.
> Net population change, 2010 to 2013: -4.43%
> Population change from peak (1980): -19.3%
> Unemployment: 10.2% (21st highest)
> GMP change, 2013: -1.7% (17th lowest)

Pine Bluff’s population fell by more than 4.4% between 2010 and 2013, or by more than 1,000 people per year in each of the last three years.Most of this decline can be attributed to outward migration. Nearly 5,000 people left the area in that time, as Pine Bluff’s population fell from just over 100,000 to less than 96,000. County officials remain unsure about what has caused the drop in population, although high crime rates are believed to be one possibility. Another contributing factor may be the lack of good area jobs — Pine Bluff’s unemployment rate topped 10% at the end of last year, among the highest rates of any metro area. Despite substantial recent gains, per capita personal income in Pine Bluff was just $32,776 in 2012, among the lower incomes in the country and well below the per capita national income of $45,188. The area’s economy has also been struggling, shrinking 1.7% last year, among the largest declines in the country.

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