Special Report

What the Most Populated Cities in America Looked Like the Decade You Were Born

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

1970s
> United States population:203,302,031
> New York: 7,894,862
> Chicago: 3,366,957
> Los Angeles: 2,816,061
> Philadelphia: 1,948,609
> Detroit: 1,511,482

Riots scarred many American cities in the 1960s, including Los Angeles and Detroit, the latter of which lost population. Dallas became the second Texas city to crack the top 10 in population, following Houston. The 1970 census marked the last appearance in the top 10 for Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

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1980s
> United States population: 226,542,199
> New York: 7,071,639
> Chicago: 3,005,072
> Los Angeles:2,966,850
> Philadelphia: 1,688,210
> Houston: 1,595,138

New York City posted the largest loss of population by a city in U.S. history, shedding about 823,000 people in a 10-year span. The nation’s biggest city was beset by crime, drug and financial problems, and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 1975. The population shift to the Sun Belt was underscored by the first appearance in the nation’s 10 most populous cities by San Diego and Phoenix. The 1980 census marked the last appearance in the top 10 for Baltimore.

Source: Ken Levine / Getty Images

1990s
> United States population: 248,709,873
> New York: 7,322,564
> Los Angeles: 3,485,398
> Chicago: 2,783,726
> Houston: 1,630,553
> Philadelphia: 1,585,577

A majority of the top 10 most populous cities were in the western portion of the Sun Belt for the first time. Los Angeles overtook Chicago to become the second-largest U.S. city. Chicago had been the second-most populous city for 100 years. Chicago’s population fell in every census since 1950. Three Texas cities appeared in the top 10 at the same time for the first time — Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

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2000s
> United States population: 281,421,906
> New York: 8,008,278
> Los Angeles: 3,694,820
> Chicago: 2,896,016
> Houston: 1,953,631
> Philadelphia: 1,517,550

A technological revolution revamped the economy, and helped boost populations in many major cities. New York City was the first city in the United States to top 8 million; Detroit was the first U.S. city whose population slid under 1 million, after having a population as large as 1.85 million in 1950, as the once-mighty automobile industry adjusted to the reality of competition from imports. Phoenix, Arizona, was the only state capital with more than 1 million people.

Source: Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

2010s
> United States population: 307,745,538
> New York: 8,175,133
> Los Angeles: 3,792,621
> Chicago: 2,695,598
> Houston: 2,099,451
> Philadelphia: 1,526,006

The last census marked the first population gain for Philadelphia since 1950, buoyed by a rise in births and an increase in immigration. Seven of the country’s 10 largest cities in 2010 were located in the Sun Belt region.