The Pandemic Population Picture Comes Into Focus

Big U.S. cities lost population as the pandemic loitered into its second year. Suburban cities in Idaho, Arizona, Texas, and Florida grew the fastest during that time.

4 minute read

May 29, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

The historic Pearl District in San Antonio is pictured on a beautiful dat.

San Antonio gained the most population in terms of sheer numbers during the pandemic months of July 2020 to June 2021. | AbeSnap23 / Shutterstock

The U.S. Census Bureau on May 26 released a new batch of population estimates for cities and towns covering the fiscal year stretching from July 2020 to June 2021.

The headline narrative to emerge from the story is the concentration of growth in the Sun Belt—namely suburban cities in Florida, Texas, and Arizona—during the initial months of the pandemic. Add Idaho to the list, and a picture emerges of immigration to suburban cities in large metropolitan areas—the “urban exodus” so many talked about during the pandemic.

Census data analysis by the Pew Research Center in December 2021 found fewer Americans moving in general during 2020, which means this latest round of population estimates can be taken, to a degree, with a grain of salt—i.e., while some suburban cities in relatively newly expanding metropolitan areas are growing quickly, Americans in general are moving less than they have in the past.

Despite that caveat, the trend throughout the pandemic was clear: Suburban parts of Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Idaho grew the fastest, large Sunbelt cities in Texas and Arizona gained the most population, and the largest, most recognizable U.S. cities lost population. Count Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City among that last group.

The 15 Cities With the Largest Numeric Increase Between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, With Populations of 50,000 or More on July 1, 2020. (Source: U.S. Census)
Rank Area Name State Numeric Increase Total Population
1 San Antonio city TX 13,626 1,451,853
2 Phoenix city AZ 13,224 1,624,569
3 Fort Worth city TX 12,916 935,508
4 Port St. Lucie city FL 10,771 217,523
5 North Las Vegas city NV 9,917 274,133
6 Cape Coral city FL 8,220 204,510
7 Buckeye City AZ 8,001 101,315
8 Frisco city TX 7,933 210,719
9 New Braunfels city TX 7,538 98,857
10 Georgetown city TX 7,193 75,420
11 Meridian city ID 6,234 125,963
12 Leander city TX 6,159 67,124
13 Fort Myers FL 5,891 92,245
14 Denton city TX 5,844 148,146
15 McKinney city TX 5,568 202,690


The 15 Fastest-Growing Large Cities Between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, With Populations of 50,000 or More on July 1, 2020. (Source: U.S. Census)
Rank Area Name State Percent Increase Total Population
1 Georgetown city TX 10.5 75,420
2 Leander city TX 10.1 67,124
3 Queen Creek town AZ 8.9 66,346
4 Buckeye city AZ 8.6 101,315
5 New Braunfels city TX 8.3 98,857
6 Fort Myers city FL 6.8 92,245
7 Casa Grande city AZ 6.2 57,699
8 Maricopa city AZ 6.1 62,720
9 North Port city FL 5.5 80,021
10 Spring Hill city TN 5.4 53,339
11 Goodyear city AZ 5.4 101,733
12 Port St. Lucie city FL 5.2 217,523
13 Meridian city ID 5.2 125,963
14 Caldwell city ID 5.2 63,629
15 Nampa city ID 5.0 106,186

The mainstream media rushed to publicize the latest Census data, some focused on the quick growth in their local markets and others pointing out the decline of the nation’s most urban cities. The pandemic and its effects on the country's cities and migration patterns are clear subtext for much of the coverage. A roundup of the local and national news on the new population estimates follow [Hat tip to D'Vera Cohn (@allthingscensus) for sharing most of the news we’ve gathered here].

Population Growth

Population Decline

James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021.

babyt Boomer Homeowners

The Shifting Boomer Bulge: More Bad News for America’s Housing Crisis?

In the first of a two-part series, PlaceMakers’ Ben Brown interviews housing guru Arthur C. Nelson on the sweeping demographic changes complicating the housing market.

March 12, 2023 - PlaceShakers and NewsMakers

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Yellow on black "Expect Delays" traffic sign

A Serious Critique of Congestion Costs and Induced Vehicle Travel Impacts

Some highway advocates continue to claim that roadway expansions are justified to reduce traffic congestion. That's not what the research shows. It's time to stop obsessing over congestion and instead strive for efficient accessibility.

March 14, 2023 - Todd Litman

Pedestrian stoplight with green 'walk' silhouette lit up and blurry city buildings in background

Historically Redlined Neighborhoods Have Higher Rates of Pedestrian Deaths, Study Says

The consequences of historic redlining continue to have consequences in the present day United States. Add another example to the list.

28 minutes ago - Streetsblog USA

A toll payment facility in Florida.

Tolling All Lanes

Bay Area transportation planners are studying a radical idea to reduce traffic congestion and fund driving alternatives: tolling all lanes on a freeway. Even more radical, the plan considers tolling parallel roads.

March 21 - San Francisco Chronicle

Close-up of person holding up smartphone next to contactless fare reading device on bus

Federal SMART Grants Awarded for Transportation Safety, Equity Projects

The grant program focuses on the use of technology to improve safety, accessibility, and efficiency in transportation.

March 21 - U.S. Department Of Transportation

Planner II

City of Greenville

Planner I

City of Greenville

Rural Projects Coordinator (RARE AmeriCorps Member)

Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps Program

Write for Planetizen

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.