Special Report

America’s Fastest Shrinking Cities

Source: Doug Kerr / Flickr

11. Watertown-Fort Drum, NY
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -5.5% (-6,398)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.6% — 23rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -9.1% — 380th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $53,917 — 17.9% below national median

The populations of most cities on this list declined in similar fashion in both halves of the last decade. The population in the Watertown-Fort Drum, New York, metro area, however, actually grew by 1.5% from 2010 to 2014, before declining by 6.9% from 2015 to 2019. The result was a 5.5% overall population decline during the decade.

The northern New York metro area has faced economic challenges similar to many other cities on this list. Officials also say the population decline is, at least partially, attributable to the Fort Drum military base reducing personnel, which could have a domino effect on the number of spouses and dependents as well as support workers leaving the area.

Source: John M. Chase / Getty Images

10. Cumberland, MD-WV
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -5.8% (-5,988)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.3% — 40th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: 0.9% — 326th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $49,729 — 24.3% below national median

The Cumberland metro area is one of four places at least partially located in West Virginia to rank among the nation’s 10 fastest shrinking cities. From 2010 to 2019, the area’s population decreased by 5.8%, or nearly 6,000 people.

While incomes in the Cumberland area increased sharply during the decade, climbing by 42.7%, the typical area household still earned less than $50,000 in 2019, about $16,000 less than the U.S. median. Similarly, while the number of jobs in the area increased slightly, by 0.9%, during the 2010s, the unemployment rate declined much more gradually during the decade than it did nationwide. Though in 2010 the area’s 9.3% unemployment rate was lower than the U.S. rate of 9.6%, by 2019 the jobless rate dropped to just 5.3%, higher than the 3.7% U.S. rate and 40th highest out of nearly 400 metro areas reviewed.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

9. Elmira, NY
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -6.1% (-5,391)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.2% — 109th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -12.0% — 382nd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $60,782 — 7.5% below national median

Unlike many other cities on this list, the population of the Elmira, New York, area was actually on the upswing at the beginning of the 2010s, increasing from 2010 to 2011 and 2011 to 2012. After that, the area’s population shrank by hundreds each year, with Elmira eventually losing 6.1% of the 2010 population by 2019.

Even before the population of Elmira started shrinking, total employment in the metro area was on the decline. Elmira had the second-highest drop in total employment of any U.S. metro area from 2010 to 2019, as 12% of the jobs available at the beginning of the decade were gone by the end. Difficult economic circumstances often coincide with population decline, as people search elsewhere for jobs.

Source: StanRohrer / Getty Images

8. Wheeling, WV-OH
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -6.1% (-9,009)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.4% — 33rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -1.3% — 343rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $50,440 — 23.2% below national median

In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the Wheeling metro area around the West Virginia-Ohio border lost over 9,000 people, or 6.1% of the population. There were over 4,000 more deaths in the area than births throughout the 2010s, and nearly 5,000 more people moved away from Wheeling than moved to it.

Housing prices typically reflect the demand for living in an area, as well as what residents can afford. The Wheeling area has some of the least expensive homes of any metro area in the U.S., with the typical home worth $115,500, less than half the price of the typical U.S. home, which is $240,500.

Source: Archedamian / Wikimedia Commons

7. Decatur, IL
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -6.1% (-6,768)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.3% — 40th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -6.2% — 371st highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $50,839 — 22.6% below national median

The Decatur metro area of Central Illinois is one of just nine areas in the U.S. in which the population declined by more than 6% from 2010 to 2019. There were over 1,000 more births than deaths in the Decatur area throughout that decade, and over 7,800 more people moved away from the area than moved to it.

Even as nationwide economic indicators improved throughout the 2010s, many cities like Decatur were left behind. For instance, the number of households living on less than $10,000 a year in the U.S. declined from 7.6% in 2010 to 5.8% in 2019. Yet in Decatur, such households became more common, increasing from 8.4% to 11.7% during that time. No other metro area had such a dramatic increase.