The Cities Americans Are Abandoning

Former industrial powerhouses have fared the worst, with Detroit and the outer reaches of Chicago losing inhabitants fast.
The Cities Americans Are Abandoning Newsweek

In 2014, the residents of Flint, Michigan, began noticing their tap water had a strange taste. City officials assured worried citizens that the water, which was now being drawn from the Flint River due to a money-saving initiative, was safe to drink.

Then children began getting sick, blood tests showing they were far over the safe threshold for lead contamination. Yet even after officials knew that the lead was coming from the new water supply corroding the city's lead pipes, officials were slow to react. The infamous crisis dragged on, with the city spending thousands of dollars a day on bottled water as recently as this year.

The crisis had an unsurprising effect—people left the city. But this migration outwards wasn't new. The Rust Belt city had already suffered through the regional post-industrial squeeze long before this latest crisis hit.

General Motors once employed 85,000 people in Flint, but closures beginning in the 1980s fuelled an exodus. Flint's population, which stood at about 200,000 in 1965, has now dipped below 100,000 people.

It was this deindustrialization and population drop that contributed to the city's financial woes and led to the water crisis in the first place. Flint shows the cyclical nature of depopulation, which erodes tax bases and traps citizens in poverty.

Other Rust Belt cities are also crumbling away, although the erosion is slower. Figures from the US Bureau of Statistics, tracking population change between 2010 and 2017, show that although the nationwide population is growing, a number of cities are getting smaller.

Using this government data, we've compiled a list of the fastest-shrinking cities that had at least 100,000 citizens in 2010. Places which were once industrial powerhouses have fared the worst, with Detroit and the outer reaches of Chicago losing inhabitants fast.

It isn't just the heartlands that are affected. Cities in upstate New York continue to shrink, even as New York City and its suburbs see further growth.

There is hope that declining cities can make a turnaround. Pittsburgh lost half its population between 1950 and 1990, but a bold regeneration plan has begun to stem the flow of people leaving, and attracted tech investment.

Not everywhere is on the same path to recovery. From Flint, Michigan to Hartford, Connecticut, these are America's fastest shrinking cities.

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1. Flint, Michigan. 2010 population: 102,434. 2017 population: 96,448. Population decrease: -5,986. (-5.84 percent) Brett Carlsen/Getty Images