Special Report

This Is America's Fastest Shrinking City

Source: Jon Dawson / Flickr

6. Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -6.7% (-8,381)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.6% — 23rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -5.2% — 367th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $49,510 — 24.7% below national median

The Weirton-Steubenville area is one of two metro areas along the West Virginia-Ohio border to rank as one of the fastest shrinking places in America, as the 2019 population was 6.7% smaller than the population in 2010. The area is one of just a handful of places on this list in which the natural population change accounted for more of the population loss than did migration.

Throughout the 2010s, the opioid epidemic has impacted this part of the country especially profoundly, as West Virginia and Ohio have the highest and second-highest rates of overdose among states, respectively. Just as a lack of economic opportunities can lead people to leave an area, experts say it can also push people towards substance abuse, leading to high instances of overdose deaths.

5. Danville, IL
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -7.2% (-5,867)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.1% — 47th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -5.8% — 370th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $43,111 — 34.4% below national median

Danville is one of many Illinois metro areas losing residents and one of two in the state to rank among the fastest shrinking places in the country. It is one of just five metro areas in the country in which the population declined by over 7% from 2010 to 2019. Researchers at the Illinois Policy Institute found that those leaving Danville and areas like it are working-age people, typically 25-54, striking out in search of places to earn higher wages and start a family.

There are few high-paying jobs available in Danville — the area has one of the 10-lowest median household incomes in the country, at $43,111. People with college degrees tend to earn higher incomes, yet Danville is the least educated metro area in the country. Just 12.1% of residents 25 and older hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33.1% of Americans that age overall.

Source: Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant) / Wikimedia Commons

4. Beckley, WV
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -7.3% (-9,147)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.0% — 53rd highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -2.6% — 357th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $44,785 — 31.8% below national median

Like many other parts of West Virginia, the Beckley metro area has contracted in population over the past decade. From 2010 to 2019, the population has shrunk by over 9,000, or 7.3%.

During the 2010s, the typical American home increased in value by 33.7%. Yet in Beckley, homes in 2019 were worth just 2.9% more than they were in 2010, one of the lowest growth in home value in the U.S. Incomes also increased at a much slower pace, and the typical Beckley household earned about $21,000 less per year in 2019 than the typical U.S. home.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Charleston, WV
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -7.5% (-20,911)
> 2019 unemployment: 4.8% — 60th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -8.6% — 378th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $47,500 — 27.7% below national median

The Charleston, West Virginia, area is one of just four metro areas in the U.S. in which the population declined by more than 20,000 people from 2010 to 2019. In nine of those 10 years, the population declined by over 1,000, compared to the year before. Nearly 16,000 more people moved away from the area than moved to it during the 2010s, and the area also reported over 5,000 more deaths than births.

Many people left the Charleston area as job opportunities became scarce. The number of people working in the area declined by 8.6% from 2010 to 2019, as the number of workers nationwide grew by 13.3%. As jobs have declined, poverty has increased — Charleston’s poverty rate grew by 2.5 percentage points from 2010 to 17.1% in 2019, even as the U.S. poverty rate declined by 3.0 percentage points to 12.3%.

Source: Jupiterimages / Getty Images

2. Johnstown, PA
> 2010-2019 pop. change: -9.4% (-13,503)
> 2019 unemployment: 5.3% — 40th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2010-2019 employment change: -9.1% — 379th highest out of 383 MSAs
> 2019 median household income: $49,076 — 25.3% below national median

Each year from 2010 to 2019, the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, area lost over 1,000 people, eventually totaling over 13,500 people, or 9.4% of the 2010 population. The 9.4% population decline is the second largest decrease of any U.S. metro area.

By many metrics, the Johnstown area is struggling economically, facing conditions that often prompt residents to move elsewhere. The median household income in the Johnstown area was just over $49,000 in 2019, well below the $65,712 U.S. median household income that year. Most homes in the area are worth less than $100,000, well below the $240,500 median home value nationwide.