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April 14, 2007

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Last week the U.S. Census released new population estimates.  We covered the winners fairly extensively last week on the blog.  This week, we turn to those regions that were hit the hardest – which regions lost the greatest number of residents?   Just like last week’s "By the Numbers," we’ll show comparisons for large, medium, mid-sized, and small metros.

New Orleans, LA experienced the most dramatic loss in population, which is not surprising given the effect of Hurricane Katrina.  But, what’s going on in metros like Pittsburgh and Cleveland?  Why are these metros losing population so fast?  What are these region’s doing to “plug the hole?”

Click below to download the entire "By the Numbers" for this week.

Download PopulationLosses.pdf

posted by: steven


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Michael Wells

This is a really interesting contrast to the population gainers. Again, I can comment on a couple. I was born in Martin's Ferry, Ohio across the river from Wheeling, WV and have a cousin still living in St Clairsville, Ohio. That whole part of the Appalachians was coal mining and it's dried up -- 10 of the national losers are within a hundred miles of each other there. I remember going back with my father several years ago and being shocked at Wheeling -- the streets looked like nothing had changed since 1950 at least and the nearest commercial airport was Pittsburgh. My cousin still owns the old family house in Adena and at a family party we were talking to a realtor relative about it. He said the house might be worth $500 if anyone wanted to buy in Adena, which they wouldn't -- in Portland at that time it would have been a $60,000 house. We didn't see many young people in Adena, everyone we met was living on Social Security and Black Lung disability payments. It seems like not much has changed. I have no idea how that part of the country starts to catch up.

But the shocker for me was Salinas and Santa Cruz losing population. My wife's sister lives in Salinas, and it looked pretty healthy a few months ago. Salinas used to be agricultural (John Steinbeck country). Santa Cruz is the beach, a UC campus, very attractive place. Both are 50 miles or less from Silicon Valley. I wonder if the housing prices are driving out the lower income families, and they're being replaced by smaller families?


I live in Cleveland and work in a non-profit agency. Cleveland has a 50% drop-out rate, 50% of the kids are not living with birth parents and a 65% unemployment rate among black men. And we cannnot get past the silo-ing of projects, needs and services. This is played out in the over-representation of our city government. We have 21 city council members each making 70k. We do not have a city large enough to warrant that many councilpeople, but we have turf wars small enough to justify it.

We have a mayor who will not release FOIA documents and we have a crony system that dates way back and is almost impenetrable.

It is the silo effect that has resulted in 21 council seats and a closed system. The roots of the silo, I am unsure of, but I do see effects of it in every committee I attend. It permeates everything in this town. There is no system of sharing info. We are like fleas biting a big dog of issues but no communication between us as to how and who will tackle the causes of our decline. There doesn't seem to be an expectation of accountability, let alone accountability itself. It is not one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, its more like, "hands? we have hands?"

The issues we face seem daunting and yet it would appear that there is a collective hunch that if we do nothing, the problems will go away.

Technology? Some move in but everytime Bush shows up another factory closes. We are close to becoming a one company town with Cleveland Clinic. That gives a few high paying jobs, but more low paying ones and retail/service support jobs that do not pay the bills. And though a standard bearer, only in the last few months did Cleveland Clinic begin to offer domestic partnership benies.

We are surrounded by universities Ohioans can ill-afford to attend, and students ill-educated to pass admissions.

Our glass is not only half empty, but is fully cracked.

And yet, I see and hear no urgency to be unreasonable. No solutions, no efforts to bridge differences, no townhalls to sort out the issues.

It's one for one and none for all, it seems.

And yet there are some strides being made. I do see some progress in small steps, but I am deeply concerned it will be to no avail with the systemic silo mentality.

Michael Wells

So I was thinking about this and remembering that part of the country where Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia come together. Looking back at Richard's map of college graduates, the region is almost all way below the national average which is 24 graduates per hundred population. Some are in the 10 to 20 fewer than average range which means single digits. Pittsburgh and Cleveland fall within the national average, but that's not great for urban areas.

Going back to Rise, here's how the cities rank on the creativity index: Youngstown, 272; Cleveland, 118; Pittsburgh, 90; Dayton, 125; Toledo, 181; Scranton, 139; Charleston, 206; Huntington, 227; Wheeling, 221. Only Pittsburgh makes the top 100 (barely).

In my previous post, I said these were within 100 miles. After checking on a few, it's actually a 200 mile radius around Wheeling. I don't know if that matters, or just makes things worse.


I don't know the Appalachians and areas within 200 miles personally. But as an outsider watching economic, social and demographic trends in the USA, it seems like young people are doing what Florida predicts or argues is happening -- going where the opportunities are.

In world history cities and regions rise to prominence and then drop off: often to rise again decades or centuries later, sometimes not.

In some cases, you can't stop the population outflow if the main industries and jobs are gone and no obvious successor exists.

Incidentally, I thought Pittsburgh was doing better, however, at remaking itself as something other than a steel town. Population outflow suggests otherwise, unless it mostly happened at the beginning of the census interval and has since stabilized or grown slightly (but net number is negative from the early departures).

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