Special Report

Cities That Lost the Most Residents In 2021

Many Americans have given up on big city life, opting instead for smaller communities, city-adjacent suburbs, or small rural towns, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from July 2020 to July 2021. (Here are the metro areas with the biggest pandemic population increase.)

To identify cities that lost the most residents, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed metropolitan area population data from the Census Bureau’s Vintage 2021 estimates of population and components of change. Metro areas were ranked by the percent change in population from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, due to migration alone.

In that period of time, metropolitan areas centered around New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago lost a combined 825,998 people due to net domestic migration. Several metro areas with populations of over 1 million people, including San Diego, Boston, Washington D.C., and Miami each lost tens of thousands of residents in that 12-month period.

While the pandemic played a significant role in this, driving many Americans toward smaller, less densely-populated areas, some of the internal migration trends preceded the COVID-19 outbreak. Years of soaring housing costs have pushed many people to leave expensive cities for lower-cost parts of the country. Unfortunately for many potential home buyers, as a result of this trend, home prices have soared in smaller cities, too, according to a recent analysis from Moody’s Analytics. (Here are the most popular cities for homebuyers.)

By far, California has been most affected by this exodus. Eleven of the 50 metropolitan areas that experienced the biggest drops in local populations were in the Golden State. The San Jose and San Francisco metro areas lost 2.5% and 2.6% of their populations, respectively, in the 12 months to July 2021. Smaller California cities like Napa and Salinas also experienced significant population declines due to more people moving out of these areas than moving in.

It makes sense that California, the nation’s largest state by economic clout and population size, would be most affected by population shifts. But Texas, the country’s second-largest state and economy, has been far less impacted. Only four Texas cities — San Angelo, Laredo, Midland, and Odessa — experienced significant drops to their populations due to domestic migration.

Here are the cities that lost the most population during the pandemic

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