Special Report

America's Fastest Shrinking Cities

ThinkstockPhotos-476314601The U.S. population rose by just 0.75% in 2014, roughly flat from previous years and the lowest growth rate in more than 70 years. Not only has the country become less attractive to immigrants than in previous years, with the population growing just over 0.3% last year as a result of migration, but the U.S. domestic birth rate has also dropped to a multi-decade low.

While population in most of the country’s metro areas has grown slowly in recent years, in a small number of metro areas the population shrank. From April 2010 to July 2014, the U.S. population rose by 3.1%, but in 10 metro areas the population shrank by as much as 2.1%. Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. examined the cities with the fastest shrinking populations.

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The fastest shrinking metro areas did not stand out as dramatically as the fastest growing areas. In 85 of the 381 U.S. metros, the population fell or remained flat last year. In 184 of the remaining areas, the population growth was less than 1%. In an interview, William Frey, senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution, told 24/7 Wall St. these declines are attributable to a number of factors, including natural changes in population and shifting immigration trends.

While people need to leave a metropolitan area in order for its population to decline, Frey explained that these areas are shrinking primarily because they are failing to attract new migrants. Some area populations increased slightly from international immigration. However, all of the fastest-shrinking metro populations declined as a result of net migration. In half of the metro areas, the population declined by at least 5% due to domestic migration.

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The availability of jobs is the most important factor in population change. While all but one fast growing metro area had an unemployment rate lower than the national rate of 5.6% in December, the opposite tended to be true in the fastest-shrinking metros. All but one area where data was available had an unemployment rate above the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. In several areas, however, the unemployment rate had improved to roughly in line or below the national rate as of December 2014.

These areas also tend to have older populations. According to Frey, this means two things. First, migrants tend to be younger in general, so these areas are not attractive to the Americans most likely to relocate. Secondly, the birth rate tends to be lower in places with older populations. The 2013 median age in all but one fast-shrinking metro area was higher than the nationwide median of 37.5 years.

In recent years, the disparity between growing and shrinking areas across the nation has actually been relatively modest. As Americans continue to recover from the recession they will increasingly have the means, and the opportunities available, to move. According to Frey, as migration picks back up again, the disparity between growing and shrinking U.S. regions may become even greater.

Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed population changes in 381 metropolitan statistical areas from April 2010 through July 2014. We only considered metro areas with at least 100,000 people as of 2014. We also reviewed figures from the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Data on incomes and price levels, as of 2013 and 2010, respectively, are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unemployment rates for December 2014 and annual unemployment rates for 2010 and 2013 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Metro area 2010 and 2013 GDP per capita figures are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and are in 2009 dollars.

These are America’s Fastest Shrinking Cities

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