Special Report

Cities Americans Are Abandoning

25. Lima, OH
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.2% (-5,522)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -3.7% (-3,962)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -1.1% (-505)
> 2019 population estimate: 102,351 (351st out of 383 metro areas)

From April 2010 to July 2019, 5,522 more people moved away from Lima, Ohio than moved to it, resulting in a 5.2% population decline in the western Ohio metro area. Some of the decline was offset by Lima’s birth rate, as the area had over 1,500 more births than deaths throughout the decade. Still, Lima has nearly 4,000 fewer people than it did in 2010.

Like most of the other cities Americans are abandoning, many Lima residents have a harder time finding work than those in the U.S. overall. Though it fluctuates, Lima’s annual unemployment rate was higher than the U.S. rate most of the years between 2010 and 2019.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

24. Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.4% (-14,717)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -4.0% (-10,855)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -7.1% (-8,708)
> 2019 population estimate: 263,670 (186th out of 383 metro areas)

Although Atlantic City’s population was buoyed somewhat by a positive net international migration of over 7,000 people throughout the last decade, 14,717 more people left the area than moved to it — a 5.4% drop compared to the 2010 population.

As a vacation destination and gambling hub, the economy of the Atlantic City metro area tends to struggle when Americans lose their disposable income. The Atlantic City gaming industry fell on hard times after the Great Recession of 2008 and since 2010, the area has had one of the highest annual unemployment rates each year. It also had to contend with the fallout from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. In 2014, four of its casinos closed, costing the area thousands of jobs. The city has again been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its 28 percentage point increase in unemployment from May 2019 to May 2020 is higher than all but one other metro area.

Source: ghornephoto / Getty Images

23. Peoria, IL
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.6% (-23,246)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -3.8% (-15,692)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -5.5% (-9,808)
> 2019 population estimate: 400,561 (134th out of 383 metro areas)

Peoria is one of four major metro areas in Illinois in which the population shrank by more than 5% due to migration between 2010 and 2019. Over 23,000 more people moved away from Peoria than moved to it from 2010 to 2019. For context, only 15 other major U.S. metro areas had a greater negative net migration, and most of them have well over 1 million residents. Peoria has just over 400,000 residents.

Peoria’s annual unemployment rate has not been lower than the national unemployment rate since 2012. In 2019, it was a full percentage point higher, at 4.7%.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

22. Saginaw, MI
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.6% (-11,236)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -4.8% (-9,630)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: 3.7% (+2,908)
> 2019 population estimate: 190,539 (227th out of 383 metro areas)

Saginaw, Michigan is one of several Rust Belts cities on this list — areas in the Midwest that once relied on manufacturing jobs that have largely moved elsewhere over the past few decades. Yet Saginaw is one of the few cities on this list with more people working in 2019 than were working in 2010. Even as residents moving out since 2010 resulted in a 5.6% decline in the area’s population, it had nearly 3,000 more people employed in 2019 than it did in 2010.

Saginaw has been buoyed by Michigan’s overall employment increase in recent years. Yet these jobs, many of which are in the service industry, often do not pay well. The median household income in Saginaw is just under $49,000, well below the $61,937 earned by the typical American household. Roughly one in six Saginaw households lives below the poverty line.

21. Charleston, WV
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.6% (-15,683)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -7.5% (-20,911)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -8.6% (-8,369)
> 2019 population estimate: 257,074 (188th out of 383 metro areas)

In nearly every city that Americans are abandoning, positive birth rates have offset at least somewhat the population declines due to migration. But in Charleston, West Virginia, deaths outnumber births by more than 5,000 between 2010 and 2019. In many large cities, young parents cannot afford to live in metro areas with high housing costs and leave for a more rural and inexpensive part of the country.

As the United States emerged from a recession in the early part of the decade, many Americans likely moved to cities that bounced back from the downturn successfully and presented new job opportunities. The unemployment rate in the Charleston area has been relatively stagnant over the last decade. While the U.S. unemployment rate declined 5.9 percentage points from 2010 to 2019, falling to 3.7%, Charleston’s declined 2.9 percentage points to 4.8%.