Special Report

Cities Americans Are Abandoning

Source: Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons

10. Danville, IL
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -7.8% (-6,361)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -7.2% (-5,867)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -5.8% (-1,942)
> 2019 population estimate: 75,758 (378th out of 383 metro areas)

Danville ranks among the 10 cities with the largest rates of population decline due to migration during the last decade. Even after counting new arrivals, 7.8% of its 2010 population had moved away by 2019, accounting for over 6,300 people.

Economic factors are one of the leading reasons people relocate, and the economic reality in Danville is more difficult than in almost all other major metro areas in America. A Moody’s analysis found that Danville is one of just two metro areas to still be in a recession in 2019. One in 10 households in Danville lives on less than $10,000 per year.

Source: sshepard / Getty Images

9. Albany, GA
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -8.3% (-12,853)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -4.7% (-7,307)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +2.1% (+1,323)
> 2019 population estimate: 146,726 (286th out of 383 metro areas)

As in many other cities Americans are leaving, many residents of Albany, Georgia struggle with harsh economic conditions. The metro area has a poverty rate of 24.7%, 11.9% of households have an income below $10,000, and 22.2% rely on food stamps or SNAP benefits — all of which are among the 10 highest shares in the nation.

Residents likely moved to other areas to try to find better economic opportunities than Albany provided throughout the last decade. Its net population decline from migration of 12,853 accounted for 8.3% of the metro area’s 2010 population. Yet those who stayed in Albany have been relatively insulated from the negative economic effects of COVID-19 thus far. In May 2020, Albany’s unemployment rate was 8.8%, well below the 13.3% national rate.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

8. Lawton, OK
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -9.0% (-11,769)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: -3.0% (-3,873)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: -4.5% (-2,314)
> 2019 population estimate: 126,415 (314th out of 383 metro areas)

People moving in and out of the southwestern Oklahoma metro area of Lawton over the past decade resulted in a population decline of 11,769. Even when considering the relatively high natural increase to the population due to a high birth rate, the population declined 3.0% from 2010 to 2019.

The population began to decline in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2014, around the same time that the state’s GDP weakened, relative to the national GDP. A Federal Reserve analysis found that the drop in net migration in the Lawton area was driven by younger, college-educated adults who likely left the area in search of better economic opportunities.

Source: Chris English / Wikimedia Commons

7. Hanford-Corcoran, CA
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -9.6% (-14,649)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: 0.0% (-34)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +6.7% (+3,365)
> 2019 population estimate: 152,940 (271st out of 383 metro areas)

The Hanford-Corcoran metro area in central California has consistently had among the 10 highest annual unemployment rates since 2011. In 2019, its unemployment rate of 7.9% was the fifth highest in the country, and more than double the national rate.

This lack of jobs likely drove many people away from the area in search of work. The Hanford-Corcoran metro area population had a net decline from migration of 14,649 between 2010 and 2019, accounting for 9.6% of the 2010 population. This population outflow was offset by a relatively high birth rate.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

6. Manhattan, KS
> Population change due to migration, 2010-2019: -9.8% (-12,490)
> Overall population change, 2010-2019: 2.5% (+3,191)
> Change in employed population, 2010-2019: +1.2% (+567)
> 2019 population estimate: 130,285 (309th out of 383 metro areas)

Manhattan, Kansas is unique from many other cities on this list, in large part because its job market is in relatively good shape and has been throughout the past decade — its unemployment rate has consistently been well below the national rate. Still, nearly 12,500 more people have moved away from Manhattan than moved to it from 2010 to 2019.

Manhattan is a college town, home to Kansas State University. Like many other college towns, graduates often move away after finishing school. But KSU’s enrollment has declined by more than 3,000 from its peak in 2014. It is also worth noting that, while unemployment is relatively rare in Manhattan, the jobs do not tend to pay well. The metro area’s median household income is $49,200, well below the U.S. median of $61,937. Manhattan also has a poverty rate of 18.8%, well beyond the 13.3% U.S. rate. This has likely spurred some residents to seek higher paying employment elsewhere.