Many Americans left the nation’s largest cities during the pandemic to live in southern suburbs, according to the U.S. Census.
New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago all experienced significant population losses in the first year of the pandemic, the US Census Bureau reported March 24.
The New York metropolitan area, which has seen an exodus of 385,455 people from 2020 to 2021, tops the list of major cities with the largest population declines. This happened despite the region gaining new residents from abroad and its number of births exceeding deaths during the same period.
The nation’s most populous city has also seen an increase in shootings and suffered high-profile crimes, including against Asian Americans. New York also had some of the strictest COVID-19 policies in place in the United States.
Phoenix, Arizona welcomed the most new residents. Its population has increased from 1.4 million in 2010 to 1.6 million in 2020, a rate of 11.2%, according to the Census Bureau. Phoenix has grown the fastest among the largest US cities, overtaking Philadelphia to officially become the fifth largest city in the United States since the last census.
The Dallas metro area’s population increased by 54,319 and Tampa, Florida added 42,089 new residents.
“The patterns we’ve seen in internal migration have changed in 2021,” Dr. Christine Hartley, deputy division chief for estimates and projections in the office’s population division, said in a statement.
The Los Angeles area, which lost 204,776 people, ranked second on the list. LA has also seen an increase in crime, with the county sheriff reporting a 137% increase in crime in February compared to the same month in 2021. Los Angeles has also had a controversial COVID-19 school mask policy that has been canceled on March 18.
It is closely followed by San Francisco, which was affected by an internal migration loss of 128,870 people, and Chicago, which lost 106,897 inhabitants.
Additionally, other metropolitan areas, such as the San Jose, CA, Boston, Miami, and Washington DC areas, also lost tens of thousands of residents.
As people leave the expensive and densely populated metropolitan centers, increasing numbers are also migrating to the suburbs or smaller towns, which offer a lower cost of living and a change in lifestyle.
“Even though over time we have seen a higher number of counties with a natural decrease and net international migration continuing to decline, over the past year the contribution of internal migration has counteracted these trends, from so there were actually more counties growing than losing population,” Hartley says.
These changes resulted in an increase in population in 1,822 counties, or 58% of the total US counties; 41.8%, or 1,313 counties, experienced a decline in population; eight counties, or 0.3%, saw no change in their population, the Census Bureau reported.
Texas is home to five of the top 10 counties that grew in population in 2021, which together gained 145,663 people.
Moreover, the latest census indicated that growth in micro-regions is accelerating. This is different from the past where metropolitan areas generally grow at a faster rate than their micropolitan counterparts. Micropolitan areas are defined as urban centers with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 people.
Sixty-five percent, or 251 of metropolitan areas experienced an increase in population between 2020 and 2021; 52.9% or 287 out of 543 micro-zones reported gains. Kalispell, Montana, Jefferson, Georgia, and Bozeman, Montana were the top three micro-regions that saw the largest population increases.
Demographer William Frey told The Associated Press he believed the shift in demographic trends was temporary. It comes as many people move during the pandemic when remote work becomes an option, he said.
“There’s clearly a scatter, but I think it’s a blow,” said Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan policy program, Brookings Metro.
“We’ve been at one of the lowest levels of immigration for a long, long time, and it’s affecting major metros like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s going to come back. With the natural decrease, we’ll go back to normal” , Frey told the AP.
The data released Thursday covered 3,143 counties, 384 of the nation’s metropolitan statistical areas and 543 micropolitan statistical areas.