Ko Im always thought she would be in New York forever. She knew every corner of Manhattan and had worked hard to build a community of friends. Living in a small apartment, she found her attitude changing quickly in the pandemic. After her brother accepted a job in Seattle in the summer of 2020, she decided to move there as well.
“It was fine until it wasn’t,” said the 36-year-old Im. “The pandemic really changed my mindset about how I wanted to live or how I needed to live.”
Eight of the 10 largest US cities lost population during the first year of the pandemic, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago leading the way. Between July 2020 and July 2021, New York lost more than 305,000 people, while Chicago and Los Angeles contracted 45,000 and 40,000 people, respectively.
Although San Francisco is not among the 10 largest cities, about 55,000 residents have left that city, or 6.3% of its 2020 population, the highest percentage of any US city.
Of the 10 largest US cities, only San Antonio and Phoenix gained new residents, but they added only 13,000 people, or less than 1% of their population, according to 2021 vintage population estimates.
Justin Jordan’s move to Phoenix a year earlier was inspired by a job offer that paid him more than a penny in Moundsville, West Virginia, where he was living. She has had to adjust to 110 °F (43.3 °C) temperatures and traffic.
“I love the weather, the atmosphere and all the things to do,” said Jordan, 33, senior operations manager at a business services firm.
Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; And Austin and Fort Worth in Texas also recorded modest population growth.
In March, the U.S. Census Bureau released projections for metro areas and counties showing changes from mid-2020 to mid-2021. Estimates released Thursday provide a more nuanced perspective. For example, data for March showed that Metro Dallas had the largest population gain of any metro area in the US, with more than 97,000 residents, but Thursday’s estimate showed that the city of Dallas had almost Lost 15,000 residents. Growth took place in Dallas suburbs such as Frisco, McKinney and Plano.
The causes of population change vary from city to city, driven by housing costs, jobs, births and deaths. The pandemic and lockdown in the spring of 2020 made crowded city living less attractive for a time, and those who could leave – workers who could do their jobs remotely, for example – sometimes did.
Brookings Institution demographer William Frey said he believes the population decline in most of the largest US cities from 2020 to 2021 is “short-term and pandemic-related”.
When it comes to growth rates, as opposed to raw numbers, the fastest growing cities with populations of at least 50,000 residents were in the booming suburbs of the Sunbelt metro areas. They included Georgetown and Leander outside Austin; the city of Queen Creek and the towns of Buckeye, Casa Grande and Maricopa outside Phoenix; the city of New Braunfels outside San Antonio; and Fort Myers, Florida. Their growth rate ranged between 6.1% and 10.5%.
The city’s communications manager, Keith Hutchinson, said that as Metro Austin has grown rapidly, so has Georgetown, located more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Texas capital. The city grew by 10.5%, the highest in the country last year, and now has 75,000 residents.
“It’s not really surprising,” Hutchinson said. “People are going here for jobs.”
Estimates also showed a 3% to 3.5% decline in population in New Jersey cities outside of New York such as Union City, Hoboken and Bayonne. Similar declines occurred in Daly City, Redwood City and San Mateo outside of San Francisco, as well as Cupertino in Silicon Valley.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Laura in 2020, lost about 5% of its residents, the second highest rate in the US after San Francisco.
Although a Category 4 storm was the driver there, elsewhere, the pandemic created opportunities to move forward. Andrew Mazur, 31, had been wanting to leave Philadelphia for South Florida for some time, where he grew up, and in November 2020 his job at a large professional services firm brought the opportunity to work remotely. He joined about 25,000 residents who left Philadelphia. between 2020 and 2021.
Although he now needs a car to get around, Mazur enjoys playing golf and going to the beach every weekend. He recently moved out of his parents’ house, getting his own apartment in Fort Lauderdale. He made the move official three weeks ago by obtaining a Florida driver’s license.
“I’m not going back. It’s been great,” Mazur said. “Philly, New York, Chicago — there’s a lot of people coming here from there.”