The New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago metro areas are all losing people, according to 2018 population estimates just released by the Census Bureau. But other coastal regions—the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, along with the traditional Sunbelt boomtowns—continue to grow.

Ninety-four metro areas, representing about a quarter of the nation’s total, lost population last year on a region-wide basis. This includes nine major metros of more than 1 million people. Among them were the three biggest: New York (down 19,474 people, or 0.10 percent), Los Angeles (down 7,223, or 0.05 percent), and Chicago (down 22,068, or 0.23 percent).

The usual suspects kept expanding, however. Among larger metros, Austin topped the list again, growing by 53,086 (2.51 percent). Orlando, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Phoenix, and Dallas–Fort Worth all posted strong gains. Other high-end coastal regions grew. Though bedeviled by a homelessness problem that threatens to cloud its future, Seattle was up 54,894 people (1.41 percent). Washington grew by 49,949 (0.81 percent), and Miami by 49,095 (0.80 percent).

Among smaller metros, Boise, Idaho continues its streak as a red-hot market. It was the eighth-fastest-growing metro in the country last year and has added 113,860 people (up 18.47 percent) since the 2010 Census. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was the 11th-fasting-growing metro; Idaho Falls, the 20th. This strong growth, which includes a significant influx of coastal residents, will likely shift that state’s politics in the future. One resident said recently that Idaho is becoming “the new Colorado.”

America is experiencing economic and demographic divergence, with some cities booming while a significant share of the nation’s metro areas shrink. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, 42 metro areas in the country lost population. Based on the midyear population estimates, 85 metro areas have shrunk since 2010. Not just cities, but entire regions are getting smaller. While population growth is not the sole, or perhaps even the best, measure of urban health, population loss can cause serious problems. It can, for example, lead to sprawl without growth, which depresses housing prices and causes home abandonment. And it causes fiscal stress for local governments because so many of their costs are fixed or semi-fixed, such as bond payments and the need to maintain infrastructure.

The new Census release included only county and metro-area data, but because some cities are coterminous with counties (or are considered county-equivalent “independent cities”), the municipal population of some locations can be determined from the information. This includes New York City proper, which lost 39,523 people (the metro area’s loss was smaller). Every borough except Staten Island lost population, with Queens showing the steepest loss at 17,959, or 0.78 percent. New York is now experiencing the curious juxtaposition of high housing costs and falling population on both a regional and municipal basis. The reversal in the city’s previous growth trend is not good news.

Meantime, San Francisco added 4,139 (0.47 percent) people to reach a new all-time population high. The District of Columbia added 6,764 people (0.97 percent) and has broken through 700,000 again, to 702,455. And Philadelphia continued its recent uptrend in population, gaining 3,917 people (0.25 percent).

Two of America’s most troubled cities continued their downward population slide. Baltimore lost 7,346 people (1.20 percent) and St. Louis 5,028 (1.63 percent). Baltimore is on track shortly to fall below 600,000 people, and St. Louis will soon have fewer than 300,000 residents. The loss in St. Louis is particularly acute, with the city having hemorrhaged 65 percent of its population from its 1950 peak—worse than Youngstown or Flint. As with metro areas, the contrast between America’s booming and struggling municipalities remains stark.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images


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