Skip to content

These Are the Fastest Shrinking Cities in America

Things aren't looking so good for the state of Illinois.

Whether it's for the hot job market, the beautiful parks, or a hip downtown area, if you build a great city, people will come. And while some U.S. cities are bonafide people magnets, others seem to push their populations away. For any number of reasons—often a lack of job prospects, difficult economic conditions, or high crime rates—people leave these places for greener pastures.

To identify which cities are seeing their populations decrease fastest, we used the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We compared populations from 2016 to 2017 to learn which places lost the highest percentage of their populations that year. Over the course of those 12 months, the populations of these cities decreased anywhere from 0.7 to almost two percent. Read on to see if a city near you is on the list!

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile, drunkest cities, fattest cities

Number of people who left: 1,325
Population decline: 0.7 percent

In his 2017 state of the city address, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson noted: "The population in Mobile hasn't grown in over 50 years. For years, the city had been losing the race, lagging behind our peer cities despite the fact that we had the talent to win. The city's cheering section, which is its citizens, had grown quiet." Stimpson had attempted to drive civic engagement, but it looks like Mobile still has a long way to go.

Springfield, Illinois

springfield illinois state capitol buildings

Number of people who left: 866
Population decline: 0.7 percent

Spoiler: Cities in Illinois make up almost a third of this list. So it's fairly appropriate that the state's capital, Springfield, would make an appearance. 2019 marks the fourth year in a row that Sangamon County, where Springfield is located, has seen its population decrease, according to the Census Bureau. County administrator Brian McFadden told The State Journal-Register that it might be "easy to get complacent" with the capital, where government jobs would seem to be plentiful enough to ensure employment. But as these decreasing numbers show, that may be "a false reliance."

West Allis, Wisconsin

west allis wisconsin, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 458
Population decline: 0.8 percent

This Milwaukee County city is the only Cheese State municipality to earn a spot on our list. It's not clear why, exactly, people are leaving, but in 2019, 24/7 Wall St named the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area one of the worst places to drive. According to their index, the area saw 413.4 car thefts and 7.9 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. The same media outlet also named the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area one of the drunkest places in America, with 23.3 percent of adults drinking to excess and 32.7 percent of driving deaths related to alcohol. So this is one place you should likely stay off the road!

Toledo, Ohio

fattest cities, drunkest cities, best singles scenes, sleepless cities

Number of people who left: 2,115
Population decline: 0.8 percent

In a 2019 statement about the state budget, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz slammed Ohio governor Mike DeWine for cutting the city's budget by $6.5 million and raising gas taxes. "We continue to lose population compared to the rest of the country, but once again, they have doubled down on their attacks on cities like Toledo and have failed to adequately invest in Ohio's infrastructure," he said.

The mayor added "short-sighted policies like this one have made educated young people Ohio's number one export."

Taylorsville, Utah

taylorsville utah, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 460
Population decline: 0.8 percent

While Utah at large has recently seen strong population growth (the state ranked No. 3 for its gains in 2018, according to the Census Bureau), the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville has bucked the trend. It's a bit of a mystery why people are leaving, considering the area's relatively strong employment rates, diversity, and appeal for families, according to the real-estate website Niche. But it could simply be that the neighboring zip codes are even more attractive!

Gary, Indiana

gary indiana building, heart attack cities

Number of people who left: 587
Population decline: 0.8 percent

This city might be the subject of a charming Broadway tune, but these days visitors are more likely to hear the sound of wind whistling across empty parking lots and strip malls. That's because local business owners have criticized the city's administrators for policies that scare off businesses and create "retail deserts," according to the Associated Press.

"The biggest single factor in urban economic success is human capital," artist and entrepreneur Carmella Saraceno told the outlet. "It's talent. Gary is full of talent. It goes back to the role of the government and how do they harness that. So many talented people leave because they have no place to fit in."

Evanston, Illinois

Lighthouse Beach, Illinois

Number of people who left: 582
Population decline: 0.8 percent

Home to Northwestern University, the city of Evanston gets strong marks from real-estate website Niche, earning an A+ for nightlife, public schools, and diversity. But despite that, it's suffering along with the rest of the Prairie State from the Illinois exodus.

Experts like Brian Harger, a research associate with the Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies, attribute that mass departure to a weak economy. "Our economic recovery has been a lot more sluggish," Harger told The Washington Free Beacon. According to the paper, Illinois has seen the lowest wage growth of nearly any state since the Great Recession of 2008.

Oak Lawn, Illinois

oak lawn illinois, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 437
Population decline: 0.8 percent

This Chicago suburb (technically a village) was not immune to the difficulties of the wider region. "Population loss hurts us all," Chicago Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune in 2019 about the area's fourth consecutive year of population decrease. "This should be the proverbial canary in the mine shaft—Chicago needs a proactive growth strategy. We've got to create real opportunities and incentives for businesses and for all neighborhoods to prosper."

The Tribune's editorial board agrees, criticizing the state government for "steering the General Assembly toward higher taxes, enormous public debts and anti-employer policies that push jobs to lower-cost states."

Newport Beach, California

newport beach california, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 682
Population decline: 0.8 percent

It might be surprising that a bustling beach community like Newport would land on this list. Not only is the city beautiful, it also boasts great weather, public schools, and nightlife, according to Niche. But it turns out that Newport's desirability might be its biggest liability, with a cost of living that's hard for residents to keep up with.

Orange County was recently named the 11th most expensive place to live in the U.S., according to Kiplinger. The outlet made special note of Newport Beach, where the average home value is $1.7 million. Only San Francisco, New York City, and Honolulu boast higher median home prices. In a city like that, it's difficult to keep up with the Joneses.

Hammond, Indiana

coal power plant in hammond indiana, heart attack cities

Number of people who left: 612
Population decline: 0.8 percent

Just west of Gary, Indiana, the city of Hammond suffers from similar difficulties. Fortunately, it has gotten credit for its recent efforts to turn things around by making room for retail developments and attracting the Digital Crossroads of America Data Center, which is expected to drive job growth. Though the effects of these moves have yet to be reflected in the population data,Governor Eric Holcomb called the new data center a "huge win for the region."

Mount Prospect, Illinois

mount prospect illinois, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 438
Population decline: 0.8 percent

Along with other Chicago suburbs such as Rosemont, Des Plaines, and Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect was cited as one of the towns contributing to the state's wider population decline, according to the Daily Herald. Like the neighboring town of Evanston, Mount Prospect largely seems like a lovely place to live, with reasonably affordable housing and relatively low crime. Still, it's seen a population drain along with the rest of the region.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

rocky mount north carolina, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 456
Population decline: 0.8 percent

Once a major source of jobs in the tobacco and textile industries, Rocky Mount still hasn't bounced back from the Great Recession. In 2018, the city had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, the highest of all metro areas in the state, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

There are positive signs, though, with the recent decision to move the Department of Motor Vehicles (a substantial source of local jobs) to Rocky Mount. "[A]fter a long dry spell, we see that light at the end of the tunnel," David Farris, the president and CEO of the Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce, told CityLab. "And it is a train coming, but it's the right kind of train. Bringing good things."

Skokie, Illinois

skokie illinois, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 551
Population decline: 0.9 percent

Another victim of the Illinois exodus, Skokie seems to be doing all the right things. It's got an A+ overall rating on Niche, with strong marks for diversity, public schools, and nightlife. According to the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, "Illinois residents are fleeing for more economically hospitable states. They go to Texas, Florida, and other Sun Belt states because job prospects are better, tax burdens are lower and the weather is more temperate. The Exodus is real. It's damaging Illinois. And it may be getting worse."

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

pittsburgh pennsylvania, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 2,610
Population decline: 0.9 percent

A once-bustling manufacturing hub, Pittsburgh has seen many of its citizens move elsewhere in recent years, dropping from the 26th most populous city in the U.S. to the 27th (it was edged out by Sacramento). "The numbers are not surprising and reflect the deep demographic changes going back to the 1970s and '80s that still impact the region today," Timothy McNulty, a spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, told the Tribune-Review. "However, the mayor is happy to see international migration to the area growing, and he looks forward to ensuring a full count of residents in the upcoming U.S. Census."

Baltimore, Maryland

Cherry blossoms and statue at Wyman Park, in Charles Village, Baltimore, Maryland.

Number of people who left: 5,310
Population decline: 0.9 percent

In 2018, Baltimore saw its biggest population loss in a single year since 2001, according to the Census Bureau. There are plenty of factors that could have caused this, a weak job market and poor housing options among them. But the biggest issue for this city may be its crime: Baltimore has the highest homicide rate among the country's 50 largest cities, according to data from the FBI. "The population will come back as soon as we get all this violence under control," Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told CBS in 2019.

Decatur, Illinois

decatur, illinois, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 631
Population decline: 0.9 percent

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the Decatur metro area gained only 100 jobs from August 2016 to August 2017. And from 2001 to 2016, manufacturing jobs decreased by 28 percent. "Our population decline must come to an end and making our community more livable, vibrant, and healthy will be critical to securing our long-term future," said mayoral candidate David Horn in March 2019 in response to questions from the Herald & Review. (Horn lost to the incumbent.)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

baton rouge louisiana state capitol buildings

Number of people who left: 1,978
Population decline: 0.9 percent

Crime is definitely a problem in Baton Rouge, which has a murder rate more than seven times the national average, according to a 2019 report by Neighborhood Scout. To add to that, the city's not particularly healthy, either. Baton Rouge landed on 24/7 Wall St's 2019 list of U.S. cities with the worst diets; exactly one-third of the population is considered obese and around 40.2 percent reported not eating healthily.

Berwyn, Illinois

berwyn illinois, fastest growing cities

Number of people who left: 517
Population decline: 0.9 percent

Another Chicago suburb that's seen its population drop significantly in recent years, Berwyn has been doing its darnedest to entice younger people to look at the city in a new light. The city even launched a campaign aimed at millennials. "We are really looking to get first-time homebuyers to check us out," Elaina Hampson of the Berwyn Development Corporation told the Chicago Tribune. "We are close to the city, we have the city feel but the suburb environment."

Cicero, Illinois

high school in cicero illinois, heart attack cities
Teemu08/Wikimedia Commons

Number of people who left: 771
Population decline: 0.9 percent

Another Chicago suburb, Cicero suffers similar challenges as the rest of the group. A number of politicians and policy writers point to the high tax burden faced by the state's residents as a reason why they could be leaving. A poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 47 percent of Illinois residents want to leave the state, with taxes being the most-cited reason. The state also recently was ranked as No. 50 out of 51 on Wallethub's 2019 report on property tax rates by state.

Erie, Pennsylvania

erie pennsylvania overview, heart attack cities

Number of people who left: 920
Population decline: 0.9 percent

In 2016, President Donald Trump visited Erie to talk about how the GE Transportation plant just east of the city has steadily shed jobs over the years—and a lack of employment opportunities is certainly partly to blame for Erie's population decline, as James Fellows reported for The Atlantic. The former third-largest city in Pennsylvania by population has slipped to the No. 4 spot as a result.

Waltham, Massachusetts

waltham massachusetts, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 610
Population decline: 1.0 percent

Similar to Newport Beach, Waltham looks great on paper. But the city's desirability has also made it unaffordable for many, with a median home value around two-and-a-half times the national average (even though household income is only a tiny bit higher than the national average). About 40 percent of the city's residents pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income in rent, which has led to a recent push to make housing more affordable. Until it does, the city is likely to see more people seeking cheaper options elsewhere.

Anchorage, Alaska

the anchorage skyline at golden hour

Number of people who left: 3,020
Population decline: 1.0 percent

The senior population of this Alaskan city is growing at triple the rate of the national average. "Anchorage saw its biggest population decline since the 1980s," said state demographer Eddie Hunsinger in response to a dismal 2017 to 2018 population report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. "It dropped down to about 295,000 people after peaking at 321,000 in 2013." Another knock against it? The crime. Anchorage landed at No. 16 on 24/7 Wall St's 2019 list of the 25 most dangerous cities.

Albany, Georgia

albany georgia fall scene, heart attack cities

Number of people who left: 774
Population decline: 1.0 percent

A 2018 analysis by 24/7 Wall St placed Albany, Georgia, at No. 7 on a list of the 50 worst cities to live in, due in part to a population that declined by almost five percent over the previous five years and a poverty rate of 32.5 percent.

Ward 3 Commissioner B.J. Fletcher stood up for her city after the report, saying, "It's just a bunch of numbers … They don't know the people. They don't know the community when we faced two storms in 2017, they don't know how we became one. They don't know what we were like when we faced floods."

Columbus, Georgia

Downtown skyline of Columbus Georgia on as the sun is nearly setting

Number of people who left: 2,249
Population decline: 1.1

After Columbus found itself on a 2018 WalletHub list of the slowest-growing mid-size communities, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson spoke out and emphasized that the ranking, which drew on data from between 2011 and 2017, was out of touch. "Our unemployment rate is going down, our poverty rate is going down, and our budget and revenues are improving. So, those indicators are good," she noted.

Tomlinson added that the population of Columbus, which is home to one of the largest military bases in the country, Fort Benning, was impacted heavily by changing military assignments during that time.

Jackson, Mississippi

jackson mississippi state capitol buildings

Number of people who left: 2,040
Population decline: 1.2 percent

Home values here are less than half the national average, while the homicide rate is more than five times the national average. But the city is taking steps to turn things around, with an ambitious plan for improving citizens' health, education, housing, and more. It even received a $1 million grant in January 2019 to overhaul its public transportation system. With luck, people will want to start coming back soon.

Shreveport, Louisiana

fattest cities, drunkest cities, best singles scenes, best job opportunities, sleepless cities

Number of people who left: 2,358
Population decline: 1.2 percent

The third most populous city in Louisiana after New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Shreveport was once a national center for the oil industry. However, from March 2018 to March 2019, it saw a one percent decrease in the total number of jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is likely why people are fleeing.

Peoria, Illinois

Peoria, happiest cities, fittest cities, healthiest cities, worst singles scenes, best cities to buy a mansion

Number of people who left: 1,468
Population decline: 1.3 percent

Of the many Illinois cities on this list, Peoria is seeing the highest level of people abandoning ship. The city has an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, compared to the national average of 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and a lack of jobs is one of the biggest reasons residents look for an out.

Enid, Oklahoma

oklahoma enid, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 663
Population decline: 1.3 percent

One culprit in Enid's population decline is the oil collapse that hit oil-producing regions hard between late 2014 and late 2016. Researchers estimate that during this period, the state of Oklahoma lost $1.5 billion in revenue. Aside from that, the city's statistics look fairly good: Unemployment is a reasonably low 3.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, crime isn't too bad, and the cost of housing is well below the national average.

St. Louis, Missouri

st louis

Number of people who left: 4,518
Population decline: 1.4 percent

A city with no shortage of cultural gems (we'll forgive the way they eat bagels) doesn't exactly seem like a candidate for the second fastest-shrinking city in the country. But there's one big factor to blame: crime. One 2019 report by 24/7 Wall St named St. Louis the deadliest city in the U.S., with a violent crime rate of 2,082 per 100,000 people.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson put a positive spin on the Census data, saying: "What I see are our streets and our neighborhoods are busier than ever. There are cranes in the sky, there are construction dumpsters on the curb." And for more deadly cities, check out the 30 Most Dangerous Cities in America.

Casper, Wyoming

casper wyoming, fastest shrinking cities

Number of people who left: 1,092
Population decline: 1.9 percent

Wyoming is a major producer of oil and gas. So it's no surprise that the state saw its population drop in half of its counties in the most recent Census report as a result of the oil crash that started in 2014.

Of all its cities, Casper was hit hardest. "People tend to move to areas where jobs are available," Amy Bittner, a senior economist for the state, told the Casper Star-Tribune. "Conversely, people may leave areas where employment opportunities become limited." And for cities you'll want to flock to, check out the 30 American Cities You Had No Idea Were Amazing Getaways.

To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to follow us on Instagram!

Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
Filed Under