Population Decline in the Latest Census Estimates

Not only are suburbs growing, many of the larger, older cities that had reversed decades of population decline, are now losing population, again. The biggest losers: counties with the greatest population densities.

2 minute read

March 28, 2017, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

The U.S. Census Bureau released population estimates on March 23. The "data confirmed that suburban areas lead growth." To understand the relationship between county population density and population change based on residents leaving and arriving in counties, Mike Maciag, Governing's data editor, "compared the Census Bureau's updated domestic migration estimates for all counties within metro areas, which were then grouped by population density."

The 146 most densely populated counties lost a total of 539,000 residents to other parts of the country over the 12-month period ending in July, representing the largest decline in recent years.

Maciag details the population loss in St. Louis and Baltimore which have seen their more affluent suburbs grow.

Over the 12-month period ending in July, the city of St. Louis lost 1.1 percent of its population -- the largest decline of any large Census-designated county nationally. The steady stream of residents leaving has led to thousands of vacant homes and lots, particularly on the north side. The city's Land Reutilization Authority currently holds approximately 12,000 vacant properties, far more than comparable cities. 

Central cities' losses are their suburbs' gains. Case in point, Baltimore.

A somewhat similar scenario is playing out in the city of Baltimore, where the population declined at the same rate. A net total of 11,000 residents moved out of the city -- many to surrounding suburban neighborhoods -- nearly doubling the domestic migration loss of the prior 12-month period.

“The suburbs in Baltimore are no more just middle-class professionals, they’re much more diverse,” says Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University professor.

See the Census Bureau's press release for tables showing showing population growth and loss from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016

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