Special Report

Largest City in Every State

Detailed Findings

After World War II, the nation experienced a seismic shift economically, politically, and demographically with the migration of the nation’s population west and south.

Still, many cities in all parts of the country have grown since 2010. Demographers have suggested various reasons why this is happening. Millennials are forgoing the bigger suburban homes of their parents to live in smaller domiciles and be closer to work. Also, empty-nest baby boomers are downsizing and moving to cities — such as college towns — to take advantage of cultural amenities they can’t find in the suburbs.

Using data obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Bloomberg News found that although urban areas account for just 3.6% of the total size of the 48 contiguous U.S. states, four in five Americans live, work and play in urban areas.

In all but five states, the largest city either gained population or the population was little changed since 2010. The population of New York City, the nation’s biggest metropolitan area, climbed to an all-time high of 8.6 million. It is one of six cities on the list with a population topping 1 million people. Burlington, Vermont, is the largest city in the Green Mountain State with just over 42,000 people, the smallest population of each state’s biggest cities.

Among the cities with noteworthy increases is Seattle, Washington, whose population has leaped more than 18% since 2010. Seattle’s growth has been buoyed by its indie music scene and major corporations such as Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing. Also in the Northwest, proudly quirky Portland, Oregon, experienced a population increase of 10%.

A pro-business climate has raised optimism in Denver, Colorado (whose population is up almost 17% since 2010), Charlotte, North Carolina (16.3%), and Indianapolis, Indiana (5.1%). Technology, energy, and the burgeoning cannabis industry — Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use — power Denver’s economy. North Carolina and Indiana annually rank highly in pro-business surveys of states conducted by CNBC and Forbes.

The energy sector helped boost North Dakota’s economy, with Fargo, the state’s biggest city, gaining 15.5% more residents since 2010. The population of Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, has increased 14.5% since 2010, as that state’s economy has been buoyed by agriculture.

The populations of Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Columbus, Ohio, have all grown by at least 10% since 2010. Common threads connecting all three cities are that all received their first major league sports team over the last 20 years and that all three are state capitals. Nashville is also one of the music hubs of the United States, while Columbus is home to Ohio State University.

The lure of the Sun Belt continues to boost Phoenix, Arizona, whose population climbed 12.2% since 2010 to 1.6 million, lifting the southwestern city into the top 10 biggest cities in the country. Another Sun Belt city, Las Vegas, Nevada, had been badly hurt by the housing bust more than a decade ago, but it has since rebounded, with a population growth of almost 10%.

Speaking of cities shaking off adversity, New Orleans’ population continues to grow following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005. New York City, battered by Superstorm Sandy in 2011, has seen its population climb 5.2% since 2010. Today, New York City contains 43.4% of the state’s population, the largest share of any state’s largest city. The population of Newark, New Jersey, which had been declining for generations, edged up 2.8% to about 285,000 people.

Other Northeast cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Boston, Massachusetts, have both added residents since 2010.

The largest cities in five states have shed population since 2010: Birmingham, Alabama; Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; Jackson, Mississippi; and Charleston, West Virginia.