Census: Big Cities Lost Population During the Pandemic

For the first time in at least three decades, major metropolitan areas in the U.S. showed negative population growth during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1 minute read

April 17, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows a strong trend toward outmigration from big cities between July 2020 and July 2021, when the pandemic was at its peak. According to a piece by William H. Frey, “These shifts occurred during a year in which the nation registered its lowest population growth (0.1%) in at least 120 years, due to sharply reduced immigration from abroad and much lower levels of natural increase (the excess of births over deaths).”

The pandemic accelerated existing trends, Frey writes, pointing to more restrictive immigration laws and a decline in childbirths for many groups as factors for lower population growth nationwide. “The onset of the pandemic-accelerated growth slowdown in major metro areas led to an absolute population loss in 2020-21 among those areas combined. This is the first time the nation’s major metro areas registered an annual negative growth rate since at least 1990.”

The article expresses optimism that pandemic-era trends will reverse and population growth will return to a healthier growth rate. But it remains to be seen how the change in commuting patterns and the amenities people prioritize will impact the growth of large cities, and whether the recent popularity of small towns and suburbs with younger households will lead to a shift in the suburban form and more sustainable suburban planning.

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