Sunday, November 16, 2008

Biggest Loser since 1950

The New York Times this morning had a story about the unhealthiest city in the United States: Huntington, West Virginia. The story was disturbing in all kinds of ways, but one number in it really stuck out to me--the decline in population in that city between 1950 and 2000 was more than 44 percent.

This brought to mind a conversation I had with John Weicher some years ago about which city had lost the most population. Just to be clear, we were talking about municipalities, not metropolitan areas. I went to the census web site this morning, and generated the following growth (loss) rates between 1950-2007 for the 50 largest municipalities in 1950:

Jacksonville 293.91%
San Diego city 278.82%
Houston city 270.40%
San Antonio city 225.38%
Dallas city 185.53%
Fort Worth city 144.57%
Oklahoma City city 124.75%
Columbus city 98.92%
Los Angeles city 94.60%
Indianapolis city 86.21%
Long Beach city 86.04%
Memphis city 70.21%
Omaha city 69.04%
Miami city 64.36%
Atlanta city 56.69%
Louisville/Jefferson County metro government (balance) 51.11%
Portland city 47.31%
Denver city 41.50%
Seattle city 27.08%
Norfolk ciy 10.41%
New York city 4.85%
Oakland city 4.40%
San Francisco city -1.34%
Kansas City city -1.37%
Toledo city -2.83%
Milwaukee city -5.52%
St. Paul city -10.95%
Richmond city -14.14%
Worcester city -15.15%
Jersey City city-18.94%
Chicago city -21.66%
Akron city -24.28%
Boston city -25.22%
Washington city -26.66%
Minneapolis city -27.66%
Birmingham city -29.52%
Philadelphia city -30.02%
Providence city, RI -30.18%
Dayton city -32.02%
Baltimore city -32.88%
Syracuse city -33.22%
Cincinnati city -34.04%
Rochester city, NY-34.29%
Newark city -36.16%
Detroit city -50.42%
Cleveland city -52.12%
Buffalo city -53.01%
Pittsburgh city -54.02%
New Orleans city-58.08%
St. Louis city -59.06%

[sorry for the formatting--if anyone has good ideas for table formatting in blogger, I would love to hear them].

Some striking things emerge. First, only 22 of the 50 top 50 from 50 gained population. And among the 22, Jacksonville, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City had lots of land within their municipal boundaries in which to grow, and Louisville, Nashville and Indianapolis merged with their counties. Denver and Miami are quite remarkable stories, because their boundaries were both fixed and pretty tight in 1950. But keep in mind that the country doubled in population between 1950 and 2007, so if a city's growth is anything less than 100 percent, it is underperforming. By this standard, only 7 of America's top 50 in 1950 has matched or surpassed the country. This illustrates starkly how the country's population has spread.

That said, the cities on the bottom of the list are those that have suffered the most stress. New Orleans does reflect Katrina: before Katrina is population loss was actually fairly typical of a city from the top 50 in 1950.

Phoenix and Las Vegas are not on the list because they were not among the top 50 cities in 1950.


Anonymous said...

Jacksonville, Fla. also merged with its county around 1970.

ryan said...

Surely many of those areas are stressed, but this trend may also be indicative of increased mobility among all classes of households.


Anonymous said...

CDC says Burlington, VT is the healthiest city in the US.

Anonymous said...

this also says a lot about variations in historical settlement and annexation laws. older metro areas have more small independent jurisdictions : boston, pittsburgh. western states generally started with bigger areas and state law was generally more accomodating.

Don Coffin said...

I work in Gary, Indiana, and wodered where it would fit on this chart. As it turns out, not so badly. Gary's population in 1950 was 133,911; by 2000, that had declined to 102,746, a decline of 23.3%, between Chicago and Akron (a slightly greater decline as of 2006--27%). But Gary's population peaked in 1960 (178,320), so its decline from 1960 to 2000 was a more dramatic 42.4%, more on the order of Detroit.

In Gary, that decline is a consequence, more than anything else, of white-flight in the 1970s and of the decline of the steel industry. It was also a consequence of Gary's not expanding gerographically, not annexing what was in 1950 unincorporated land south of the city. I know of no other city (save perhaps Camden) which has so much empty space in its downtown.

Anonymous said...

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