Special Report

This Is America's Fastest Shrinking City

Source: Leonard J. DeFrancisci / Wikimedia Commons

21. Rocky Mount, NC
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.3% (-6,598)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.2% — 44th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -2.0% — 351st highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $46,466 — 29.3% below national median

Each year from 2010 to 2019, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, has consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, likely prompting some residents to seek economic opportunities elsewhere. The number of people living in the Rocky Mount area fell by nearly 6,600 during the decade, a 4.3% decline.

Factors driving the population decline in Rocky Mount and the surrounding northeastern North Carolina area include a population that skews older and a lack of economic opportunities for younger people, according to demographic analysts.

Source: Smallbones / Wikimedia Commons

20. Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.5% (-7,100)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.5% — 26th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -2.8% — 358th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $54,587 — 16.9% below national median

The Vineland-Bridgeton area in southern New Jersey is one of just 11 U.S. metro areas in which home values actually declined over the past decade, from $177,600 in 2010 to $164,900 in 2019. For context, home values nationwide increased 33.7% during that time. The local decline in home values likely reflects both the drop in demand for housing as the area’s population declined as well as the relatively stagnant local incomes growth. Throughout the last decade, incomes grew by only 5.7% in Vineland, compared to a 31.3% increase nationwide. The area’s median annual household income of $54,587 is over $11,000 lower than the U.S. median.

Difficult economic circumstances in an area can often drive residents to seek out opportunities elsewhere. The Vineland-Bridgeton metro area is one of 20 places in the country in which the population fell by at least 4.5% from 2010 to 2019.

Source: AllenS / Wikimedia Commons

19. Farmington, NM
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.7% (-6,087)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.7% — 17th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -1.5% — 347th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $44,321 — 32.6% below national median

Farmington, New Mexico, reported a relatively high natural population increase from 2010 to 2019 of nearly 7,000 more births than deaths in the area. Yet this was not enough to offset the roughly 13,000 more people that left the area than moved to it. It is one of just five major metropolitan areas in America in which more than 10% of the population moved away during the 2010s.

Shrinking places like Farmington tend to struggle economically. The northwest New Mexico metro area had one of the 10 lowest 2019 median household incomes out of the 383 metro areas reviewed, at $44,321 — about $21,000 lower than the U.S. median. It is the only metro area in America where incomes actually declined during the decade, falling 1.8% from 2010 to 2019. Incomes in every other metro area increased by at least 3.5%, and the U.S. median annual household income grew over 31%.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

18. Flint, MI
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.7% (-19,974)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.9% — 59th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: 7.4% — 232nd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $50,389 — 23.3% below national median

From 2010 to 2019, over 24,000 more people left the Flint, Michigan, area than moved to it. Natural growth offset some of that decline as the population fell by more than 4.7%. Flint made national headlines when a botched changeover of the city’s water supply in 2014 caused lead from pipes to leach into the water being sent to area homes.

Though this undoubtedly drove some residents away, Flint’s population contraction was already underway as the area faced similar struggles to many other parts of the Rust Belt. Flint’s unemployment rate has consistently been one of the highest in the nation, and its 2019 poverty rate was 16.5%, well above the U.S. poverty rate of 12.3% for that year.

Source: sshepard / Getty Images

17. Albany, GA
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -4.7% (-7,307)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.3% — 95th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: 2.1% — 310th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $40,625 — 38.2% below national median

The population of the Albany, Georgia, area grew 3.5% due to natural population growth (births minus deaths) from 2010 to 2019. This was roughly in line with the overall U.S. natural population growth, which was 3.8% for the decade. Yet Albany had one of the largest population outflows of any place in the country — nearly 13,000 more people left the area than moved to it during the 2010s, accounting for 8.3% of the population. Overall, the population declined by over 7,300 people during that time, or 4.7%.

Like nearly every other metro area on this list, Albany faces serious economic challenges. It has the 10th highest 2019 poverty rate out of 383 U.S. major metropolitan areas reviewed, as 22.6% of residents live below the poverty line. Nationwide, the poverty rate is 12.3%. Albany also has the second lowest median household income of any metro area, at $40,625 — over $25,000 less than the U.S. median.