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New Census numbers say many big cities got smaller during the pandemic.

New US Census Bureau numbers: West, South gain while big cities lose


New numbers from the Census Bureau revealed the southern and western United States were big winners while big cities were big losers in terms of population change during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers, released Thursday, compared populations between July 2020 and July 2021.

“Populations of cities and towns in the South and West regions of the United States still experienced the most growth from July 2020 to July 2021, with the top 15 fastest-growing cities or towns located in these regions,” the Census Bureau said. “The top 15 largest cities remained the same as in 2020 although more than half experienced decreases in their population between 2020 and 2021.”

Big cities recording population declines, according to the new Census numbers, include:

  • New York, New York (-305,465)
  • Chicago, Illinois (-45,175)
  • Los Angeles, California (-40,537)
  • San Jose, California (-27,419)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (-24,754)
  • Dallas, Texas (-14,777)
  • Houston, Texas (-11,777)
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (-5,343)
  • San Diego, California (-3,783)

As for the top 15 fasting growing cities by percentage, 14 of them are concentrated in four different states, including:

  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Idaho

All three Idaho cities on the list are suburbs of Boise.

“Eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities or towns by percent change were in the West — with five in Arizona — and seven in the South,” the Census said. “The South and West also contained the top 15 cities with the largest numeric gains — 11 in the South and four in the West.”

Reasons for population changes vary from city to city. They can include housing costs, jobs, births and deaths. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown made living in a crowded city less appealing, and some of those who could leave, like people who work remotely, did.

“It was fine until it wasn’t,” former New York City resident Ko Im said. “The pandemic really changed my mindset about how I wanted to live or how I needed to live.”

Thursday’s Census numbers capture a time early in the pandemic and don’t reflect changes since last summer. Whether the virus has permanently altered the urban landscape of America remains unanswered.

“People have definitely returned to the city. There are a lot more people on the streets,” New York real estate agent Daniel Akerman said. “In July 2021, people were still guarded about COVID and a lot of that has gone away. People are a lot more free. They are out and about, going to restaurants.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.