Special Report

America's Fastest Shrinking Cities

Source: bobistraveling / Flickr

10. Beckley, WV
> Population change (2011-2016): -3.42%
> Total population: 120,924
> Per capita income: $33,538
> Unemployment rate: 6.1%

Like many other metro areas struggling to adapt to the nation’s declining coal industry, Beckley’s population is shrinking. In the first three months of 2016, U.S. coal production hit its lowest point since a major coal strike in 1981 slowed coal production to its previous record low. With a 6.1% unemployment rate, some members of the Beckley workforce may seek employment elsewhere. The Beckley population fell by 3.4% between 2011 and 2016, among the most of any metro area. While most of the city’s population decline is due to outbound migration, Beckley is also one of 50 metro areas with a negative natural population growth — where there are more deaths than births.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Charleston, WV
> Population change (2011-2016): -3.50%
> Total population: 217,916
> Per capita income: $42,039
> Unemployment rate: 5.3%

Four of the metro areas with the fastest shrinking populations are in West Virginia, and Charleston, the state capital, is one of them. As is the case with most metro areas on this list, Charleston’s population decline is due primarily to people moving away. Relatively poor socio-economic conditions may partially explain why. While over the last five years median income nationwide increased by more than $2,600, the median income in Charleston remained unchanged. Charleston is also relatively dangerous. There were 530 violent crimes in the metro area for every 100,000 residents in 2015, compared to the 373 incidents per 100,000 residents nationwide.

8. Watertown-Fort Drum, NY
> Population change (2011-2016): -3.52%
> Total population: 114,006
> Per capita income: $43,170
> Unemployment rate: 6.2%

As is the case with most metro areas on this list, Watertown-Fort Drum’s population decline is due primarily to people moving away. While a high birthrate and international migration in the past five years contributed to population growth in the metro area, the number of people moving to other destinations in the United States more than offset these population gains.

Like nearly every other metro area on this list, Watertown-Fort Drum has high unemployment. Some 6.2% of the area’s labor force is out of a job, compared to only 4.7% of the U.S. labor force.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

7. Albany, GA
> Population change (2011-2016): -3.55%
> Total population: 152,219
> Per capita income: $34,326
> Unemployment rate: 6.3%

Albany is one of just two metro areas in Georgia where the population has declined over the past five years. While the population increased somewhat due to natural growth, outbound migration more than offset this growth, resulting in a population drop of 3.5% between 2011 and 2016. One push factor may have been the area’s high crime rate. About 670 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 Albany residents in 2015, among the most of any city nationwide.

While Albany’s population has fallen in recent years, the area’s economy shows signs of improvement. Albany’s median household income rose from $34,805 in 2011 to $40,143 in 2015, and the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree rose from just 13.4% to 21.1%. Despite the improvement, Albany remains one of the poorest cities in the country.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Decatur, IL
> Population change (2011-2016): -3.68%
> Total population: 106,550
> Per capita income: $44,383
> Unemployment rate: 6.8%

The Decatur metro area’s population has fallen by 3.7% over the last five years. Decatur’s population drop can be partially explained by the ongoing national decline of heavy manufacturing, which remains central to the metro area’s economy. Some of Decatur’s largest employers include food processing giant Archer Daniels Midland and heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar. The metro area’s unemployment rate of 6.8% is still well above the 4.7% U.S. unemployment rate.

As is typical in other areas with declining populations, property values are low in Decatur. The area’s median home value of $98,200 is nearly half the corresponding national median home value.

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