Largest US cities lost population during pandemic, Sunbelt saw gains, census data shows
Ko Im always thought she would live in New York forever. She knew every corner of Manhattan and had worked hard to build a community of friends. Living in a small apartment, she saw her attitude change at the start of the pandemic. After her brother accepted a job in Seattle in the summer of 2020, she decided to move there as well.
“It was fine until it wasn’t,” said Im, 36. “The pandemic really changed my mindset about how I wanted to live or how I needed to live.”
Eight of the 10 largest cities in the United States lost population in the first year of the pandemic, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago leading. Between July 2020 and July 2021, New York lost over 305,000 people, while Chicago and Los Angeles contracted 45,000 and 40,000 people, respectively.
Although San Francisco is not among the 10 largest cities, nearly 55,000 residents have left the city, or 6.3% of its 2020 population, the highest percentage of any US city.
Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, only San Antonio and Phoenix gained new residents, but they only added about 13,000 people each, or less than 1% of their population, according to 2021 vintage population estimates.
FILE – The sun rises behind lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City on May 22, 2022, as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
Justin Jordan’s move to Phoenix a year ago was prompted by a job offer paying him more money than the one in Moundsville, West Virginia, where he lived. He had to adapt to temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius) and heavy traffic.
“I love the weather, the atmosphere and all the things to do,” said Jordan, 33, a senior operations manager for a business services company.
Austin and Fort Worth in Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Columbus, Ohio also saw modest population gains.
In March, the Census Bureau released estimates for metropolitan areas and counties showing changes from mid-2020 to mid-2021. Estimates released on Thursday offer a more granular perspective. For example, data from March showed the Dallas metro area had the largest population gain of any metro area in the United States, adding more than 97,000 residents, but Thursday’s estimates show the city of Dallas lost almost 15,000 inhabitants. Growth has occurred in Dallas suburbs like Frisco, McKinney and Plano.
The reasons for demographic changes vary from city to city, due to housing costs, jobs, births and deaths. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown in spring 2020 made life in a crowded city less appealing for a time, and those who could leave — workers who could do their jobs remotely, for example — sometimes did. .
Brooking Institution demographer William Frey said he believes the population declines in most major US cities from 2020 to 2021 were “short-lived and pandemic-related”.
In terms of growth rates, as opposed to raw numbers, the fastest growing cities with populations of at least 50,000 were in the suburbs of booming Sunbelt metropolitan areas. They included Georgetown and Leander outside of Austin; the town of Queen Creek and the towns of Buckeye, Casa Grande and Maricopa, outside of Phoenix; the town of New Braunfels, outside of San Antonio; and Fort Myers, Florida. They recorded growth rates of between 6.1% and 10.5%.
As Austin’s metro has grown by leaps and bounds, so has Georgetown, located more than 40 miles north of the Texas capital, said Keith Hutchinson, the city’s communications manager. The city grew by 10.5%, the highest in the country last year, and now has 75,000 inhabitants.
“It’s not really a surprise,” Hutchinson said. “People come here to work.”
Estimates also showed population declines of 3% to 3.5% in New Jersey cities outside of New York, such as Union City, Hoboken and Bayonne. Similar declines occurred outside of San Francisco in Daly City, Redwood City and San Mateo, as well as Cupertino in Silicon Valley.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Laura in 2020, lost nearly 5% of its residents, the second highest rate in the United States behind San Francisco.
Although the Category 4 storm was the driving force there, elsewhere the pandemic created opportunities to move. Andrew Mazur, 31, had wanted for some time to move from Philadelphia to South Florida where he grew up, and the opportunity to work remotely at his job at a large professional services firm came in November 2020. He joined nearly 25,000 residents who left Philadelphia. between 2020 and 2021.
Although he now needs a car to get around, Mazur loves to play golf every weekend and go to the beach. He recently left his parents’ house to have his own apartment in Fort Lauderdale. He formalized the move three weeks ago by obtaining a Florida driver’s license.
“I won’t be going back. It was awesome,” Mazur said. “Philly, New York, Chicago – tons of people from there are moving here.”
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