Special Report

This Is America's Fastest Shrinking City

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

26. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.1% (-15,026)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.0% — 53rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -3.2% — 359th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $48,329 — 26.5% below national median

The Huntington-Ashland metro area spans several counties in three states — West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio — around the Ohio River. It is one of just 26 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. in which the population fell by more than 4% from 2010 to 2019. Throughout the same decade, the U.S. population grew by 6.3%.

Among the 383 major metro areas in the U.S., just 58 had a negative natural population change during that decade — meaning there were more deaths than births in the area. The Huntington area was one such place, with a natural population decline of almost 3,300 over the decade. When combined with nearly 12,000 residents moving away during that time, the population of Huntington-Ashland fell by more than 15,000 people, or 4.1%.

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25. Sierra Vista-Douglas, AZ
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.1% (-5,437)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.7% — 17th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -7.7% — 377th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $48,484 — 26.2% below national median

Population change is often a reflection of economic conditions in a given area as people may go to seek jobs in other locations. The number of people working in the U.S. grew from 139.1 million in 2010 to 157.5 million in 2019 — a 13.3% increase. Yet in the Sierra Vista area in Arizona, the number of workers declined 7.7%, one of the 10 largest decreases in employment out of nearly 400 U.S. metropolitan areas.

The Sierra Vista area consistently had one of the higher unemployment rates throughout the 2010s, and its 2019 median household income of $48,484 was well below the U.S. median that year of $65,712. Its poverty rate of 16.3% in 2019 was also 4 percentage points higher than the U.S. poverty rate.

Source: Rivers Langley; SaveRivers / Wikimedia Commons

24. Anniston-Oxford, AL
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.2% (-4,921)
> 2019 unemployment: 3.5% — 210th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -2.5% — 355th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $48,156 — 26.7% below national median

There were nearly 5,000 fewer people living in the Anniston-Oxford, Alabama, metro area in 2019 than there were in 2010, a population decline of 4.2%. Like nearly every other metro area on this list, the Anniston area had a relatively low 2019 median household income, at $48,156 — 26.7% lower than the U.S. median. Additionally, 9.6% of households in the area earn less than $10,000 per year, compared to 5.8% of U.S. households overall.

However, even as many residents left the Anniston area, the financial situation has improved significantly over the last decade. While the U.S. poverty rate declined by 3 percentage points from 2010 to 2019, it declined by 7.7 percentage points in the Anniston area. In most cities on this list, the poverty rate either did not decline as much as it did nationwide or increased.

23. Altoona, PA
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.2% (-5,288)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.5% — 81st highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: 0.0% — 330th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $51,004 — 22.4% below national median

Altoona is one of three metro areas at least partially in Pennsylvania to rank among the fastest shrinking places in America. Unlike nearly every other area on this list, the number of jobs stayed relatively consistent in Altoona over the last decade, even as the population fell by 4.2%.

As the population has declined in the Altoona area, the poverty rate has increased — up 3.3 percentage points from 2010 to 2019, to 15.6%. During that time, the U.S. poverty rate declined from 15.3% to 12.3%. Only five other metro areas had larger poverty rate increases during the decade.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

22. Bay City, MI
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.3% (-4,647)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.7% — 68th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -1.3% — 344th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $49,610 — 24.5% below national median

Bay City, which gets its name from its proximity to Saginaw Bay, is one of three Michigan metro areas in which the population fell by near nation-leading levels from 2010 to 2019. The area’s natural population decline exceeded 1,400 during that time, and over 3,000 more people left the area than moved to it.

As the U.S. recovered from the 2008 recession, incomes nationwide increased significantly over the last decade, but in Bay City, incomes increased at a far slower pace as did other economic improvements. The U.S. median household income increased 31.3% from 2010 to 2019 to $65,712. In Bay City, incomes increased less than 10% and remained under $50,000.