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America's Dying Cities

Cities With Bleak Futures Ahead


From 2000 to 2010 the U.S. population increased by the smallest rate than at any time since the Great Depression, rising 9.7% to approximately 308 million people, according to new census data. It’s yet another sign of the tough times that many Americans faced during the second half of the 2000s due to an ailing economy, but it only begins to paint a picture of the country’s money woes.

In several dozen cities nationwide, the population actually declined significantly as residents presumably began to flee the region’s toxic financial atmosphere, or perhaps in some cases, even held off on having kids due to a lack of resources.

We used the most recent data from the Census Bureau on every metropolitan area with a population exceeding 100,000 to find the 30 cities that suffered the steepest population decline between 2000 and 2009. Then, in an attempt to look ahead toward the future of these regions, we analyzed demographic changes to find which ones experienced the biggest drop in the number of residents under 18. In this way, we can see which cities may have an even greater population decline ahead due to a shrinking population of young people.

Here are the 10 cities that had the steepest drop in overall population as well as the largest decline in the number of residents under the age of 18.

Photo Credit: renaissancechambara

10. Grand Rapids, Mich.


Michigan dominates much of this list, with several cities experiencing significant declines in population as the state suffered high unemployment rates and above average foreclosures in recent years due mainly to the collapse of the auto industry.

Total Population (2009): 193,710

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 24.8%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -2.1%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.2 percentage points

Photo Credit: Terry Johnston

9. Flint, Mich.


Flint’s long and painful decline has been well documented by local filmmaker Michael Moore, who grew up there. Flint’s problems started well before the recession, when General Motors, the source of many jobs here, began closing factories and laying off workers. The full-scale collapse of the housing and auto markets in 2007 and 2008 only further exacerbated the problem, which has resulted in the population declining by a tenth.

Total Population (2009): 111,475

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 28.1%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -10.8%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.5 percentage points

Photo Credit: NESJumpman

8. South Bend, Ind.


More than 50 years ago, South Bend, Ind., was a hub of manufacturing, largely due to the presence of the Studebaker car company. But by the early 1960s, the company had closed up shop in South Bend for good, plunging this area into a long and steep downturn that continues today, though it’s a bit more muted than in previous decades. What is particularly troubling for this small city is that the number of young people declined by 2.5% during the previous decade, casting further doubt on whether this city will ever be able to recover.

Total Population (2009): 104,215

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 24.8%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -3.9%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.5 percentage points

Photo Credit: bsabarnowl

7. Detroit


Earlier in the decade, Detroit not only thrived from a booming auto industry, but the city also boasted a vibrant music and art scene. Unfortunately, the decline of the auto industry hit this city particularly hard, at one point causing the unemployment rate to shoot up to nearly 50%. Some of those who could afford to move and weren’t tied down by a mortgage likely shifted to other regions with better job markets, evidenced by the decline in the overall population and the number of residents younger than 18. In recent months, however, businesses and community activists have begun to brainstorm ways to rebuild the city so that this coming decade ends up better than the last one.

Total Population (2009): 910,921

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 28.5%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -4.2%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.6 percentage points

Photo Credit: femaletrumpet2

6. Pittsburgh


Like several of the other cities on this list, Pittsburgh’s decline was not a product of the recent recession. Rather it began several decades ago as the U.S. steel industry started to decline. The city continued to lose residents throughout much of the 2000s, and perhaps more importantly, the number of young people living in this city continued to decline, signaling that Pittsburgh may still have a tough decade ahead.

Total Population (2009): 311,647

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 17.2%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -6.8%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -2.7 percentage points

Photo Credit: hdport

5. Cleveland


On the whole, the Midwest fared well during the recession years, but not the Great Lakes states, which were more closely tied to the auto industry. By one metric, Ohio is one of several states that still remains at risk of falling back into a recession in the immediate future. The tough times have likely driven some residents to look for safer financial ground elsewhere, including more than 3% of the young people living here. But for the sake of this city, we hope that things turn around soon. After all, if there aren’t any young people, will Cleveland still be able to rock?

Total Population (2009): 431,369

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 25.4%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -9.7%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -3.1 percentage points

Photo Credit: bobjagendorf

4. Rochester, N.Y.


Much of upstate New York has come upon tough times in recent years, and Rochester in particular. Some of the major corporations based there, like Kodak, have gone out of business or simply moved elsewhere.

Total Population (2009): 207,294

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 25%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -5.7%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -3.1 percentage points

Photo Credit: litaliamal

3. Hialeah, Fla.


Florida, in general, has been hurt quite badly by the recession and crises like the BP oil spill, both of which have hurt the housing market in particular. But Hialeah, a city outside Miami, has been hit harder than most, as the foreclosure rate currently sits at nearly twice the national average.

Total Population (2009): 218,896

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 19.9%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -3.3%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -3.1 percentage points

Photo Credit: aaronescobar

2. Vallejo, Calif.


Vallejo, like much of California, suffered an extreme housing crunch in the lead up to the recession, and even as recently as December, one in every 113 homes was foreclosed on, one of the highest rates in the country. This has made the city a less desirable place to live and unfortunately, not much may change in the near future. One recent study found that housing markets in many of the cities in the South and the Southwest that tanked may take decades to return to pre-recession levels.

Total Population (2009): 114,622

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 24.4%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -1.8%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -3.2 percentage points

Photo Credit: ChrisYunker

1. New Orleans


New Orleans suffered a steeper population decline than any other city in the country thanks to Hurricane Katrina, which displaced much of the population and made it difficult – if not impossible – for some to return. However, the majority of those who were displaced have since begun to return to the city, as have a number of new residents and businesses. So while the city’s population may be down from what it was in 2000, it is clearly on the rise going into the new decade.

Total Population (2009): 354,850

Proportion Under 18 (2009): 21.6%

Change in Total Population (2000-2009): -26.8%

Change in Residents Under 18 (2000-2009): -5.1 percentage points

Photo Credit: Ray Devlin

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