With Jobs Scarce, Rust Belt Cities Decline

In this May 29, 2008 file photo, a boater heads down the Cuyahoga River toward Lake Erie past downtown Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File

Hurt by the still-sluggish economy, Rust Belt cities and other U.S. manufacturing regions are suffering the biggest population losses as people search elsewhere for jobs.

New census estimates for 2009 highlight the continuing effects of the recession on the nation's cities.

The figures show Cleveland had the largest numerical decline in residents, dropping 2,658, or nearly 1 percent. It was followed by Detroit, which lost 1,713 people, and Flint, Mich., down 1,382.

Other losers include Baltimore, Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, as well as the Florida cities of Cape Coral and St. Petersburg, two retirement destinations on the Gulf Coast. They declined as more older Americans stayed put in California, the Northeast and Texas.

"Many baby boomers and young adults are still in a holding pattern," said Mark Mather, associate vice president at the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau. "They are staying close to big cities where most jobs are located, waiting for the economy and housing market to bounce back before they make their next move."

The numbers reflect an overall trend in which jobs have become a predominant factor in U.S. migration as the government winds down its high-stakes 2010 census count. Growth in once-torrid regions in the South and West such as Arizona, Nevada and Florida is slowing due to the housing crunch, while many big cities are gaining as they hold onto more residents.

In all, four of the 10 fastest-growing cities in 2009 were in Texas, which saw substantial population gains due to a stronger labor market and immigrant growth. Frisco, a bedroom community outside of Dallas, ranked at the top, growing 6.2 percent to 102,412 people. Other Texas gainers were McKinney, Round Rock and Lewisville, increasing between 3.3 percent and 5.5 percent.

In contrast, growth in Phoenix, Atlanta, Albuquerque, N.M., Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla., slowed by as much as 2.4 percentage points since 2006. Those cities were victims of a foreclosure crisis that made it harder for new residents to move in.

"Steady growth will make Texas cities the big winners when the 2010 census comes out next year," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution.

The Washington, D.C., region continued its rapid growth in 2009, boosted largely by federal government jobs. Alexandria and Arlington, both located in Virginia near the nation's capital, each added more than 3 percent to rank as the fifth and seventh fastest-growing cities, respectively.

Other findings:

New Orleans was the fourth fastest-growing city in 2009, rising 5.4 percent from the previous year. Still, its population of 354,850 residents lagged its pre-Hurricane Katrina level of roughly 485,000 in 2000. The city's population dipped in 2006 to about 210,000.

Philadelphia added to gains after successfully challenging its 2008 census estimates as too low. Its population in 2009 increased to 1.55 million. Last December, the Census Bureau increased the 2008 estimate by 93,000 people to 1.54 million after the city complained it was being routinely undercounted. Philadelphia remains the sixth largest city, having been surpassed by Phoenix in 2007.

New York was the nation's most populous city, with 8.4 million residents. It was followed by Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. Others in the top 10 included San Antonio; San Diego, Calif.; Dallas; and San Jose, Calif.

The numbers are the last estimates for cities before the 2010 census is completed later this year. Data from that official head count will be used to redraw legislative boundaries and distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid.

The Census Bureau estimated annual population totals as of July 1, 2009, for cities, defined by boundaries of incorporated areas. The agency used local records of births and deaths, Internal Revenue Service records of people moving within the U.S. and census statistics on immigrants.


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