5 Cities Have Lost Half or More of Their Populations Since 1950

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U.S. population growth hit an 80-year low of 0.6% year-over-year in 2018. The slowdown in growth — an already familiar phenomenon in some of the world’s most economically advanced countries — is largely attributable to a declining birthrate. In some of America’s cities, the population is not growing at all and is even shrinking (see our list of America’s fastest shrinking cities). In some, the severe population decline is the result of several ongoing factors that have for decades worked to decimate a city’s population.

Places like Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis are former industry hubs and innovation centers that were hugely prosperous by the middle of the 20th century. But by the 1970s, steel manufacturers, automakers, and other industrial giants, which were already reducing manned labor by implementing automated processes, left the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid Atlantic for the South and other countries.

Those companies, once central to the lives and well-being of these cities, closed their doors, and city residents abandoned city centers for the suburbs, or other parts of the country. As symbols of the post-industrial decline in America, these metropolises, known as legacy cities, often share the unfortunate label of Rust Belt city.

Today, residents of these cities are more likely to struggle to find work and live in poverty. SNAP recipiency rates in these five cities range from 17.3% to over 40%, compared to the national SNAP recipiency rate of 12.6%. Several of these cities are at the heart of the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic. Many of these cities also have higher than average violent crime rates, and some even rank as the most dangerous city in their state.

24/7 Wall St. used decennial city population figures from the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University and the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey to identify the five major cities that have lost at least 50% of their populations from their peak in 1950.

Click here to read about cities that have lost half or more of their populations.