Population Surge in Cities Eases as Jobs Shift and Suburbs Call

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - 15:30

Read SSDAN Director William Frey's recent quote for the Wall Street Journal: Population Surge in Cities Eases as Jobs Shift and Suburbs Call by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg


Big cities across the U.S. are seeing their postrecession population surge slow as Americans uproot for new jobs and suburbs regain some of their appeal. Census Bureau figures to be released Thursday show the top 50 cities accounted for 20% of the nation’s population growth for the 12 months ended July 1, 2015. That figure is down from 21% the prior fiscal year, and has slid each of the years since 2011, when cities accounted for 26.7% of U.S. population growth. U.S. cities have experienced a population surge since the recession ended in 2009 as revitalized downtown cores drew millennials, empty nesters and immigrants with lower crime, pedestrian-friendly environments and job growth.That growth is slowing as a bulge of late-20s Americans reaches prime homebuying age and high urban real-estate costs are making suburbs and exurbs more attractive, according to economists and demographers.The general slowdown lowered the population of some cities, especially around the Great Lakes. Chicago’s population shrank last year for the first time since 2009, edging down 0.1% to 2.7 million. Behind the contraction is a slowing in the arrival of Latino immigrants, who had been making up for a decadeslong migration of black Americans to the southern U.S. and whites to the suburbs, said Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer. Crime is also driving out some residents, particularly on the city’s South Side.But William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, said the new figures show that even the suburbs of some cities lost population last year, including those of Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn.Some of the shift reflects continued migration to warmer locales like San Antonio, Charlotte, N.C., and Denver, where strong job markets and lower housing costs in appealing suburbs are luring young workers and retirees.Once-hot cities including New York, Boston, San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas, also grew more slowly last year than they did the prior one, driven in part by rising housing costs. “A lot of people are getting priced out, especially in the major cities,” said Adam Kamins, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “There’s only so much space that you can build on.”The moves continue to shuffle the size rankings of U.S. cities. Washington, D.C., grew to surpass Boston in population last year. Portland, Ore., Oklahoma City and Las Vegas all became bigger than Baltimore. Wichita, Kan., New Orleans and Arlington, Texas, gained enough people that they were bigger than Cleveland last year. Seattle and Denver topped Detroit, pushing it out of the top 20 for the first time since the 1850s.In Chicago, the decadeslong decline of neighborhoods once filled with Italian, Irish and Polish immigrants is causing the city’s archdiocese to close a handful of urban Catholic schools each year, said Jim Rigg, superintendent of the archdiocese’s school system. In some parts of the city’s south side, “the demographics have become so challenged that often there aren’t any children left,” he said. “People are leaving because of crime and a lack of economic opportunity.” The Hispanic immigrants and blacks that replaced earlier generations of Europeans aren’t enough to keep some schools afloat.On the whole, the nation’s big cities are still growing more rapidly than a decade ago, when the top 50 cities accounted for 3% of the nation’s population growth in 2005. Among Sun Belt cities, San Antonio; Jacksonville, Fla.; Fort Worth, Texas; Oklahoma City; Las Vegas and Raleigh, N.C., all saw growth increase last year and top recent rates of 1% to 2% a year. Many of them have bounced back from the housing collapse yet still offer a relative bargain to transplants from the Northeast.Michele DiPalo-Williams, a 62-year-old retired health-care researcher, says she and her husband left Waltham, Mass., after 22 years to move to Las Vegas last year so she was no longer at risk of slipping on ice in the winter.“I’ve seen the statistics. I know what’s going to get me: a broken hip,” she said. The couple sold their four-level home and bought a ranch of equal size with a pool for 60% of the cost of their Massachusetts home.In their new house they can walk to shops and a Saturday farmers market, and she enjoys keeping her back door open most of the year. “We feel life is a lot easier in many ways here,” she said.