The United States offers its citizens a vast and diverse range of cities to call home, from sun-soaked, beachside locales to mountainside metropolises. But not all cities are created equal, and how appealing they are fluctuates over time with social, environmental, and economic changes. This article lists 21 U.S. cities currently experiencing a population decline and the reasons why people are upping sticks and moving on.
This once-thriving industrial city has faced a steep population decline in recent years due to an infamous water crisis in which lead-contaminated water was supplied to residents (Britannica). This eroded trust in local government and, coupled with unemployment and a struggling economy, prompted residents to look elsewhere.
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that skyrocketing living costs have made S.F. one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., prompting a mass exodus of people to areas with more affordable living costs. The cost of housing is particularly high, while homelessness and high taxes also make it less desirable.
Fox 26 reports that “Houston lost nearly 12,000 residents between 2020 and 2021.” While traffic congestion is an issue, the exodus has primarily been blamed on adverse weather conditions. In Summer, Houston is blisteringly hot, yet it also suffers from hurricanes and flooding. This has resulted in many residents seeking more temperate climates.
New York City, New York
While “the city that never sleeps” may have an undeniable allure for young people and professionals, they often can’t afford the astronomical cost of living there. Buying or renting property is especially expensive, while overcrowding, crime, and congestion are also potent deterrents (Times Union).
Many families and professionals are leaving Philadelphia for greener pastures, largely due to widespread poverty and a huge divide between rich and poor. This, alongside high housing costs and a heavily criticized public school system (The Philadelphia Inquirer), has prompted many residents who can afford to relocate to do so.
Los Angeles, California
LA is famous for its entertainment industry and beautiful weather, but this makes it increasingly unaffordable for anyone other than movie stars and high earners. The Los Angeles Times says that high housing costs, air pollution, traffic, and crime rates are all forcing families and people with lower incomes into quieter, cheaper areas.
Chicago may have a vibrant culture, fantastic restaurants, and a famous skyline, but it faces some off-putting challenges, too. According to Wirepoints, the root causes of population decline are high crime rates (including violent crime) and a poor standard of education, while the numbingly cold winters aren’t for everyone.
Sunshine and affordable housing are abundant here, but summer temperatures regularly exceed 100°F, something which some residents find hard to cope with. A history of rapid growth has resulted in congestion, pollution, and inadequate water supplies, which have recently led to an exodus of people seeking cleaner, cooler cities with more resources.
As with L.A. and NYC, Seattle faces an affordable housing crisis. While its thriving tech industry and natural beauty have brought investment and tourist dollars, the average resident often struggles to afford to rent or buy property. The Seattle Times also reports high rates of depression, perhaps due to high cloud cover and rainfall.
Miami sounds great on paper, with beautiful beaches, colorful culture, and warm weather! However, the threat of flooding from hurricanes and rising sea levels makes personal safety and property damage a genuine concern. It also pushes up house insurance premiums, adding to the financial burden on its residents.
The “Motor City” has been struggling with population decline since filing for bankruptcy in 2013 (Vox). High crime rates and a struggling education system have also led to further financial strain, impacting underfunded public services. With professionals and graduates now taking their precious skills elsewhere, the problem seems set to worsen.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas offers a world-famous gambling scene and zero state income tax, but it also has some drawbacks. Heavy reliance on tourism makes it highly susceptible to economic downturns and crashes, while the heat in summer can be close to unbearable, prompting some residents to leave this desert’ fun town’ behind.
Employment and affordable housing aren’t problems in Atlanta, but traffic congestion and air pollution are. I.Q. Air says it has the 2nd worst air quality of any U.S. city, predominantly due to a high reliance on motor vehicles and few public transport options. Unsurprisingly, residents are choosing to leave in favor of places where they can breathe more safely.
Quality of life is high in Minneapolis, but the weather in winter can be beyond harsh. Subzero temperatures, ice snow, and frequent blizzards make many residents long for warmer climates, while problems with racial segregation and equality are also a cause for concern.
The population of Cleveland is declining due to a weak public school system and a struggling job market, making it particularly unappealing for families with school-age children and young people looking for employment. Cold winters with heavy snowfall don’t help matters either.
St. Louis, Missouri
It may have historical charm and low housing costs, but the excessively high crime rate is enough to persuade many residents to leave. According to U.S. News, local policing is insufficient in tackling high rates of violent and property crime. Consequently, personal and property safety is likely the number one cause of a mass departure.
Pittsburgh’s affordable housing and growing tech sector are attractive, but they don’t make up for its cloudy skies and problems with air pollution. Unemployment is also a problem in some sectors, so some residents are seeking places with sunnier skies, cleaner air, and more opportunities.
Despite its world-famous music scene, Memphis is losing residents due to inherent problems in the public education system and associated high crime rates. Many residents want to live somewhere with better safety and the promise of a decent education for their children.
Baltimore has more history than many younger U.S. towns and is also conveniently located close to major cities like Washington, D.C. However, once again, poor education systems and high crime rates are forcing residents to look elsewhere for safer communities and competent teaching.
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