10 American Cities With a Decreasing Population

crowded city street
Source: Thinkstock

People who want to live in a big U.S. city now have more options than ever. Ten American metropolises have a population of 1 million or more, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Each of the top 10 cities gained in population from 2013 to 2014, with New York adding the most new residents at 52,700.

Population gains for each of the country’s biggest cities ranged from 0.003% (Chicago) to 1.8% (San Antonio). But those modest increases are nothing compared to the big gains in some cities, like Frisco, Texas, (near Dallas-Fort Worth) which grew 5.8% in the same period.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Other big gainers in population include South Jordan, Utah; Irvine, Calif.; McKinney, Texas; and Buckeye, Ariz. Eight out of 10 of the fastest-growing cities were in Texas, California, or Arizona, with many towns experiencing double-digit population increases between 2010 and 2014.

In contrast to these sunbelt boom towns, a number of once-thriving cities have experienced falling populations in recent years. Nearly 70 of the more than 700 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 people lost population in recent years. In some cases, the number of residents dropped by 5,000 people or more.

Almost all of the 10 cities that had the biggest percentage drop in population from 2010 to 2014 were located in the Midwest, many of them former manufacturing centers that have struggled to adapt to a new economy.

We’ve put together a list of the 10 U.S. cities that had the largest relative population decreases over the last four years. The city’s current population is also compared to its peak population, according to U.S. Census data.

The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama / Source: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

10. Montgomery, Ala.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 2.5%
  • 2010 population: 205,595
  • 2014 population: 200,481
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 5,114
  • Peak population: 205,764 (2010)

Montgomery is the only southern city on the list, as well as one of two to have hit its peak population in the last 10 years. City officials blame the recent drop in population in the Alabama capital on state government and military cutbacks, reported AL.com.

9. Rockford, Ill.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 2.6%
  • 2010 population: 153,054
  • 2014 population: 149,123
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 3,931
  • Peak population: 153,054 (2010)

Rockford is the third-largest city in Illinois, but it could eventually fall to fifth place if its population declines continue, the Rockford Register-Star reported. Rockford was also named the second most dangerous city in America in 2015 by Law Street Media. Problems with crime probably aren’t encouraging residents to keep living in this city.

8. Dearborn, Mich.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 2.7%
  • 2010 population: 98,146
  • 2014 population: 95,535
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 2,611
  • Peak population: 112,007 (1960)

There were once more than 100,000 people employed at Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn. Now, fewer than 100,000 people live in the entire city. Dearborn, like the three other Michigan cities on this list, was hit hard by the decline of manufacturing jobs in the past few decades, particularly in the auto industry.

Moving, packing, box
Source: iStock

7. Decatur, Ill.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 2.8%
  • 2010 population: 76,126
  • 2014 population: 74,010
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 2,116
  • Peak population: 94,081 (1980)

Decatur’s population has dropped by nearly 20,000 since 1980. A year ago, unemployment was 10.2%. The unemployment rate has dropped about three percentage points since then, but not because the economy has improved, says the Wall Street Journal. Rather, people are giving up on this small city in central Illinois, choosing to relocate to other areas where there are better job opportunities.

6. Youngstown, Ohio

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 2.9%
  • 2010 population: 66,982
  • 2014 population: 65,062
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 1,920
  • Peak population: 170,002 (1930)

Youngstown, Ohio, has lost more than 100,000 people since 1930. The sources of the city’s problems are complex, from a declining steel industry to racial segregation to political corruption. Today, the poverty rate is 36.4% and the median household income is $24,454. The population may fall by another 6,000 in the next 15 years and the city is tearing down buildings and considering closing off access to certain streets, local news station WKBN reported.

5. Gary, Ind.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 3%
  • 2010 population: 80,314
  • 2014 population: 77,909
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 2,405
  • Peak population: 178,320 (1960)

Gary was once home to nearly 180,000 people, but today the population is less than half that. The city in northwest Indiana began life as a company town for U.S. Steel in the early 1900s. While the city is still home to U.S. Steel’s largest manufacturing plant, the company employs only a fraction of the workers it once did – about 5,000 compared to 30,000 at its peak in the 1970s. Several hundred more workers were laid off earlier in 2015, another blow to the town.

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

4. Hammond, Ind.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 3%
  • 2010 population: 80,823
  • 2014 population: 78,384
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 2,439
  • Peak population: 111,698 (1960)

Hammond, Ind., which borders Gary, has suffered much the same fate as its neighbor. Despite being located just across the state line from Chicago, the third-largest city in the country, Hammond has struggled to recover from the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs in the past few decades.

3. Saginaw, Mich.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 3.2%
  • 2010 population: 51,507
  • 2014 population: 49,844
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 1,663
  • Peak population: 98,265 (1960)

Saginaw’s population has dropped by nearly 50% since its peak in 1960. In the past five decades, many people have fled the city for the suburbs, and businesses and jobs followed them, according to the Saginaw News.

2. Flint, Mich.

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 3.3%
  • 2010 population: 102,400
  • 2014 population: 99,002
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 3,398
  • Peak population: 196,940 (1960)

The beleaguered city of Flint has served as shorthand for industrial decline in America, at least since Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger & Me. More than 40% of residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data, and the median household income is just under $25,000 per year.

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

1. Detroit

  • Percent decrease in population, 2010-2014: 4.7%
  • 2010 population: 713,862
  • 2014 population: 680,250
  • Total population decrease, 2010-2014: 33,612
  • Peak population: 1.84 million (1950)

Is it any surprise that Detroit tops the list of shrinking U.S. cities? Roughly 33,000 people moved away from the city between 2010 and 2014, more than any other place in the country. But the good news is that the Motor City’s population loss is actually slowing. Currently, the city is shrinking by about 1% a year, compared to 2.5% a year a decade ago, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“We have seen a significant slowing of people leaving the neighborhoods, and it will continue to improve,” Mayor Mike Duggan told the newspaper in May 2015. “When we talk a year from now, the numbers will look even better.”

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