Special Report

Cities Americans Are Abandoning

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

20. Flint, MI
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.7% (-24,248)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -4.7% (-19,974)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +7.4% (+11,970)
> 2019 population estimate: 405,813 (133rd out of 383 metro areas)

Flint, Michigan drew national attention in 2015 when a change in the city’s water source led to a tainted water supply. While many people certainly left the city as a result, Flint was in decline well before this happened. Like many other cities in the “Rust Belt,” it suffered when companies that had served as economic pillars for decades moved their manufacturing overseas.

Over 24,000 more people moved away from Flint than moved to it in the last decade, accounting for a 5.7% drop in population due to net migration. While Flint’s job market has shown notable improvements over the last decade, few cities have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its unemployment rate climbed 20.2 percentage points, to 25.3% from May 2019 to May 2020, the fifth greatest increase of all American metro areas.

Source: carolana.com

19. Jacksonville, NC
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -5.8% (-10,285)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: 11.3% (+20,137)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +7.4% (+4,286)
> 2019 population estimate: 197,938 (224th out of 383 metro areas)

Over 10,000 more people moved away from Jacksonville, North Carolina than moved to the metro area from 2010 to 2019, resulting in a 5.8% decline of the population.

Yet Jacksonville got much larger over the past decade, in spite of the negative net migration. It grew 11.3% from 2010 to 2019, driven by the natural increase — births minus deaths — of over 29,000 people. For context, the U.S. as a whole grew 6.3% during those same years.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

18. Brownsville-Harlingen, TX
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -6.0% (-24,410)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: 4.2% (+16,948)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +9.4% (+13,504)
> 2019 population estimate: 423,163 (127th out of 383 metro areas)

The Brownsville-Harlingen metro area had a net migration drop of 24,410 from 2010 to 2019, one of the largest total population declines over that time. This amounted to 6% of the metro area’s 2010 population. Yet the area’s total population increased 4.2% during that time, due in part to its relatively high birth rate.

This metro area at the southern tip of Texas is one of the least affluent in the country. Its median household income of $38,378 is lower than all but three population centers in the country. Its 28.1% poverty rate is the second highest nationwide. This lack of economic prosperity likely drove migration to other parts of the country.

Source: csfotoimages / Getty Images

17. Johnstown, PA
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -6.1% (-8,837)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -9.4% (-13,503)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -9.1% (-5,498)
> 2019 population estimate: 130,192 (310th out of 383 metro areas)

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a city just over 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, lost more than 8,800 residents to migration from 2010 to 2019. In many cities with negative net migrations, the population decline is somewhat offset or even completely erased by the birthrate. Yet this was not the case in Johnstown.

Unlike the vast majority of metro areas, births did not outnumber deaths over the past decade in Johnstown — with over 4,700 more deaths than births recorded in the 2010s. This likely indicates the population is an older one, and that many younger people are not staying in Johnstown to start their families. Overall, Johnstown’s population fell by 9.4% during that time, a greater decline than in all but one other metro area.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

16. Elmira, NY
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -6.2% (-5,499)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -6.1% (-5,391)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -12.0% (-4,562)
> 2019 population estimate: 83,456 (371st out of 383 metro areas)

As the country’s economy improved after the Great Recession, nearly every metro area’s economy also improved. Yet Elmira, New York was one of just two metro areas still considered to be in a recession in 2019, according to a Moody’s analysis.

Nearly 5,500 more people moved away from Elmira than moved to it between 2010 and 2019. Elmira’s population shrank at the same time as job opportunities became harder to come by. The total number of people working in Elmira fell 12% from 2010 to 2019 — the second largest decrease of any major metro area in the country. The city in southern New York, just across the border from Pennsylvania, has struggled as manufacturing jobs that once propped up the economy have moved elsewhere.