These are the fastest shrinking cities in the U.S.
In light of all the Coronavirus pandemonium in the news media, some cities and states are hit harder than others, causing massive population shifts within the U.S. Given this theme will likely be a mainstay in many parts of the world, here are the top cities in the country that have been undergoing population decline and will likely continue to do so during the pandemic. All population estimates are courtesy of the U.S. Decennial Census.
2010-2018 pop. change: -13.8%
Selma has one of the most culturally ingrained histories in the United States, due to its rich cultural history in civil rights and the Selma Voting Rights Movement in the 20th century. Unfortunately, it makes our list for the fastest shrinking cities in the U.S.
Apparently, since 1960, many people have been defecting from the city like it’s going out of style. In that year, the city started with just a little over 28,000 people. Then according to the 2010 census, the population plunged to 20,756. In the 2018 census, it dropped again to 17,886 residents.
Ocean City, New Jersey
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.6%
Ocean City saw it’s most stark and obvious population decline during the 2000s, during which it went from 15,378 in 2000 to 11,701 in 2018–a staggering 23.9% drop. Since then, it’s continued this trend with about a 700 resident decrease from 2010-2018. And this city’s economy very much depends on tourism to some extent, which plays into its census factor, too.
Located on the southeastern sliver of the state, Ocean City’s population has never been one to boast about either. With its peak coming in at about 15,500 residents. For a city that has many attractions (and a former number one spot for the best beach in the state in ‘09), their population is quite low; but your guess is as good as ours as to why people are leaving in droves.
Charleston, West Virginia
2010-2018 pop. change: -8.1%
Charleston is another case where the population was almost halved in about a 50-60 year span. In the 1960s, the city reached its peak population at about 86,000 residents and then nosedived to about 47,000 as per the 2018 census.
Given the city is the state capitol, hosts a wide array of attractions, and produced many prominent people, you would think it would be bursting at the seams with people. But then again, it’s West Virginia, so we’re not wholly surprised. Hey, at least it’s the only state without a coronavirus case as of March 16, 2020.
2010-2018 pop. change: -7.3%
This town reached its pinnacle in the 1930s, with about 67,000 people. Since then, the population’s suffered a staggering decline down to 19,447 as of the 2018 census. That substantial drop makes this town one of the fastest shrinking cities on this list.
The reasons for this are varied. The city underwent retractions in steel and coal production, which impacted job growth and resulted in many residents moving to find work elsewhere. That said, the town was also ranked in the top 200 cities in the U.S. for “Best Small Places for Business and Careers” according to Forbes in 2018.
Farmington, New Mexico
2010-2018 pop. change: -2.4%
This is quite a straw man example on this list in terms of what necessitates a verifiable population decrease. From 1950 to 1960, the city actually saw a surge in resident growth from about 3,600 during the start of the decade to an astounding 23,800 people.
Since then, the city has experienced a slowing in terms of its population climb, with a net gain overall; but a recent drop in population reveals there could be something going on beneath the surface that only time will reveal. From 2010 to 2018, the population suffered a -2.4% decline from 45,877 to 44,788 people.
2010-2018 pop. change: -.1%
Now this city has been consistently losing population going back many years. You would think a state that has a government giving new citizens a subsidy would have growing towns and cities within its borders. But this isn’t the case with Anchorage, Alaska.
While Anchorage actually saw a sizable population surge in 2010, it dipped by 0.1% and even in 2019, a news agency announced that people were leaving in droves statewide — in 18 out of 29 Burroughs, to be precise.
Bay City, Michigan
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.5%
Once a city that hosted a healthy population of more than 50,000 in 1950, Bay City has seen a steady, almost virtual decline ever since. Your guess is as good as ours as to why this is the case, but you could probably deduce the falling employment numbers roughly correlate to the dropping population, too.
Now, we can argue the 2008 market crash could have exacerbated the situation, but the trend still hasn’t been blunted to any noticeable degree regardless of this. In 2000, the population was at 36,187, but fell 5.5% to approximately 33,000 — its lowest total since the early 20th century.
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.7%
For the population of Altoona (sounds like the city of a Looney Tune cartoon show), the height of their population total reached 82,000 in 1930. Since then, however, their population has seen almost a 50% decrease to 43,700 as of 2018.
So what went wrong, you might ask? Well, the answer is pretty simple: a combination of people moving from rural areas to the cities, less job opportunities and civic reliance on the railroad industry. After this industry tanked in favor of the automobile market, the city saw a steady population decrease over time.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
2010-2018 pop. change: -13.9%
Here is an exhibit where the city in question has only experienced a recent decline in spite of exponential growth during the 20th century around the time of World War II. They reached their zenith in the 1970s, with a total of 57,400 residents.
However, from this point forward, the city would experience a slow decline, eventually ending up at about 42,000 people as per the most recent census data. The steady decline seems to coincide with the rising technological age, which could certainly have played its role in the economy.
2010-2018 pop. change: -4.9%
Now here’s an example where the 2018 unemployment rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with the precipitous population decline of a city. Pittsfield is also the largest city in the westernmost county in the state, which is also one of the largest counties in the state, too.
Once the year 1940 came about, however, this city underwent for the first time in its history (since a 1790’s census) an abrupt halt to its population growth leading up to that year. Subsequently, the town saw a linear resident decline, from 49,700 to 42,533 people as of the 2018 census.
2010-2018 pop. change: -4.1%
This town located on the west-of-center (geographically) of the state, is similar in that it has only in recent years seen a steady decline in populace. This is similar in comparison to other cities mentioned previously. The most apparent decrease came when surveying the years 2010-2018.
During that time period, the population dropped from 96,867 to 92,859–about a 4,000 person drop. The reasons for this -in terms of our best guesses- could be due to the fact a large part of its economy relies on retail, which is constantly being outsourced by e-commerce and the fact people tend to migrate to city centers.
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.6%
Rocky Mount is another example of when a town experiences the effects of the modern age within its borders. With the ushering in of digitalism, the job market has been seeing the beginnings of a slight transformation at large, especially on the retail spectrum.
From 2010-2018, the town saw its population dip by about 5.5% from 57,477 in 2010 to 54,242 in 2018. The city has done its fair share to revitalize its infrastructure and economy. For example, a new project in 2019 was spearheaded by a company called CSX, a branch off of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.3%
You know this city as the victim of a notorious drinking water crisis, involving lead in the city’s water supply and subsequent outrage in the media and culture at large.
From 1970 onward, the city saw an exponential decline in population. But the 2010s would prove to be one of the most challenging times for this city.
Approximately 100,000 have left the city since 1970, and the ‘10s proved to be yet another decade since that time showed population growth was practically out of the question. From 2010 to 2018, the city’s population went from 102,430 to 95,943.
Binghamton, New York
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.5%
This city is yet another example of precipitous decline in the populace. After a torrential flood in 2011 called Tropical Storm Lee, the city experienced a subsequent fall in population, with a -5.5% overall decrease from 2010-2018. But the city’s overall population has been experiencing a downturn going back to the 1950s.
From 1950, the city reached a high of about 80,000 people, but this would prove to be fleeting, as the city has lost about 35,000 to 36,000 residents since then. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city owes much of this to people opting to live in suburban areas.
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.2%
This is another example of a city that has seen dramatic population changes in the downward direction ever since the 1960s. In that decade, they started out with about 98,200 people, but from then on, the population steadily declined to its eventual 48,000 population total in 2018.
That’s a pretty astounding figure — an approximate 50,000 resident drop in about 50-60 years — so we’ll try to break down the reason why this happened. The 50% decrease can be largely attributed to large-scale slipping in the manufacturing industry.
Elmira, New York
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.8%
This town is located west of the center of the state, with its origins steeped in a history dating back to the mid-19th century. And while this town certainly saw its population reach a high of almost 50,000 people in the 1950s, the town would experience a steady decline totaling more than 20,000 people in a span of about 70 years.
This is despite the town ranking in the top 60 “safest places to live” out of the 344 metro areas in the state in 2005, according to the Morgan Quitno Press. Again, the decline is largely attributed to the exiting of railroads and manufacturing both in the state and the country.
Wheeling, West Virginia-Ohio
2010-2018 pop. change: -6%
Since the 1930s, this town has seen its population nearly halved. This is another city with a rich history, dating back to the mid-18th century; and it is close to the northernmost district of the state, too. As for the history, the town has plenty of evidence of this thanks to the many historical buildings within its purview.
As for its population trends, the official decline began in the 1930s, when it reached about 61,659 people. From this point onward, however, the town would see a steep decrease to 26,771 — about 35,000 from the 1930s.
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.3%
Situated in the smack-dab center of the state, Decatur’s population shrinkage has been somewhat recent — starting in the 1990s. By this point, the city was in the running to reach 100,000 residents (reaching a peak of about 94,000 in the 1980s), but that would soon prove to be an elusive dream altogether.
You know your city is in population peril when USA Today ranks it number seven on their list of “America’s fastest shrinking cities,” all thanks to its 5.5% drop in population from 2010 to 2018.
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.4%
Tack on another town from Illinois that makes the U.S. fastest shrinking cities list. Specifically, this town reached a 42,500 peak and then crashed to a staggering number of less than 31,000 by 2018. And with very little tourism to jump-start the economy, the town has relied on other means for productivity.
The city’s main economy is largely owed to government, manufacturing and retail jobs. This could account for why their population has been slipping, since e-commerce tends to dominate an increasing amount of economic activity in this age.
Beckley, West Virginia
2010-2018 pop. change: -8.1%
This town might have one of the most noticeable declines out of any of the other towns on this list. Its highest population total reached about 20,500 in the 1980s. However, the city’s population since then began to dwindle, with a 16,183 total by the 2018 census.
Either way, this certainly keeps with the theme of small to moderately populated cities losing their residents to larger metropolitan areas where all the jobs are. Suffice to say, there probably isn’t much to do in this town either.
2010-2018 pop. change: -4.9%
Lima first underwent its population decline in the 1980s, during which the town saw a moderate slip from the decade prior. The population decreased from 53,734 people to 47,827 — an approximate 6,000 person drop which amounts to about an 11% decrease.
The city has its fair share of historical edifices, including what is known as the “Golden Block,” which was almost destroyed in the 1960s. But what hurt this town the most is what is known as the “Rust Belt” decline during the 1970s and 1980s.
2010-2018 pop. change: -4.2%
With an incredible population surge from the 1950s to the 1960s, Rockford experienced a dramatic 36.4% increase during this time period. Presumably, this could be due to the boomer generation which certainly led to a big increase in population during this era alone.
From the 1960s and onward, however, the town would see a precipitous decline — save for the 1970s — during which it saw a 16.3% increase. It would eventually arrive at a virtually unchanged population from that era, with a total of 146,526 residents as of the 2018 census.
2010-2018 pop. change: -5.4%
The population dive began for this city after the 1990s, when the city had its highest population total, eclipsing 30,000 residents. From this point forward, however, they would see a legitimate decrease totaling just under 20% to the 26,052 mark.
In terms of relative popularity, Kankakee has plenty. For starters, David Letterman donated a couple gazebos to the city in 1999. It’s also the backdrop of multiple movies, including The Unborn, Child’s Play, Chain Reaction and many more.
Sierra Vista-Douglas, Arizona
2010-2018 pop. change: +1.2%
For a city that is nestled along the U.S.-Mexico border, the population of this town has been impressive. Unfortunately, its growth has sputtered to a practical halt in recent years — amounting to a subtle 1.2% increase during the 2010s. However, this wasn’t always the case, as you will see when examining its history.
After the city’s first census in the 1960s, the population was at about 3,100 people. From there, it soared, with exponential growth in the subsequent years. Now, they stand at about 44,000 residents.
Weirton-Steubenville, West Virginia-Ohio
2010-2018 pop. change: -6.6%
This region probably has one of the more surprising population declines on this list, with a population total of 124,454 according to the 2010 census. But as of 2017, that total nosedived 118,250, which is about a 5% decline.
Never mind how it is somewhat of a geographical oddity — with its location encompassing two counties in both West Virginia and Ohio — the real reason for the population decrease is the region’s loss of industrial work, as evidenced by the demolition of an oxygen plant in 2019.
Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia
This region addresses the particular metro area of Cumberland, where the city had a population of about 21,500 people in the early 2000s. However, this figure has been subsequently dwindling, thanks in large part to an ailing economy and a movement of jobs out of the sector.
One glaring reason for its precipitous decline, however, is because it is considered one of the poorest in the United States in terms of per capita income. This comes as a surprise since the area in question is somewhat close in proximity to parts of the country with high economic activity.
2010-2018 pop. change: -2.8%
While Albany has experienced steady net population growth throughout most of the 20th century, they’ve been undergoing linear decline in recent years, particularly during the 1990s. At its pinnacle mark of approximately 78,000 residents, it would only go down from there.
From that point onward, it would eventually reach about 75,000 people as of the 2018 census. Some of its economic focal points include manufacturing, transportation, and retail, which make the foundations of its everyday commerce. This trend will likely only continue with the expanding technological age.
2010-2018 pop. change: -2.8%
If you are looking for a city with a roller coaster effect in terms of population growth and decline, then look no further than Mobile, Alabama. Since its first reported census in 1785, Mobile saw incredible growth from about 750 people to about 200,000 by the 1980s.
But the most recent 2018 census shows a pretty moderate decline to about 189,000 people, which is the lowest it’s been since the mid-20th century. However, their economy is relatively strong, with vast shipping ports like the Port of Mobile, for example.
West Allis, Wisconsin
2010-2018 pop. change: -1.5%
Census data has been somewhat limited on this town; but what is available shows a considerable population shrinkage. During the 1970s, the city saw its largest population total of approximately 72,000 residents, which would be quite a short-lived term for the town.
As of the 2018, only around 59,000 residents resided in the city. Much of the flight can be attributed to a shrinking workforce base, which would naturally affect the economy at large.
Here’s yet another example of a collection of towns that were hit hard by unemployment. Once again, we can assume their population suffered due to the loss of jobs. With a moderate unemployment rate — 4.7% as of 2018 — this three-city trifecta experienced corresponding population decline in recent years.
Since 2010, these cities have seen a combined decline of 4,200 people from that year until 2018, which amounts to a 4.8% drop. And while it’s somewhat cheap to live in these areas in terms of rent and property prices, we presume the high humidity and few job opportunities added to reasons for people leaving.