Is this the end of cities in America?
This year ended the boom of cities that started in the 1990s. The mirage of cities buffeted by white collar jobs and supported by the wealthy who pay bloated tax rates is over. It is easy to blame this on the coronavirus, but a combination of factors heralded the slowdown in places like New York and fueled population growth in smaller cities and suburbs across some regions of the country. Significant numbers of each social class decided it was no longer worth living in major metropolitan areas.
What developed this year is a cascade of residents leaving large cities in blue states. The losers included New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the District of Columbia. New York lost at least 300,000 residents. San Francisco saw 90,000 postal changes of address away, while its median apartment rent fell 20 percent. Los Angeles recorded more than 25,000 move outs, and Chicago had more than 20,000 move outs. The District of Columbia has lost 15,000 residents. More cities that sustained growth in the last decade also face severe falls in interest.
Residents who fled large cities in blue states overwhelmingly relocated to red states, mostly in the Sun Belt or places outside of California. Phoenix retained its spot with the fastest population growth in the country, and its metropolitan population now overtakes Boston. Some other winners are Nashville, where home prices continue to surge and real estate inventory is down 40 percent, Las Vegas, which has tempted Bay Area technology workers to follow the Raiders to Sin City, Charlotte, which now boasts a higher population than San Francisco, and the greater Charleston area, where residents have benefited from many manufacturing jobs.
As more people telecommute, many have relocated to smaller cities and suburbs, either close to their initial homes or in low tax states. Places like Tulsa, Louisville, Burlington, Knoxville, Syracuse, and Little Rock have had population influxes of nearly double their 2019 rates or better. Polls have also found a majority of technology workers would leave Seattle or New York if they could. The shift from New York to Syracuse was unlikely one generation ago for white collar workers, but it is a new norm for middle class folks who turned those big cities into economic leaders.
The trend is that big cities led by Democrats face the starkest population losses in the country, For young people leaving college, or those entering into the middle of their careers, there is little allure left in these concrete jungles. The safe cities inspired by Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s are no more with rising poverty and violent crime. The coronavirus brought nightlife and culture to a halt, and many residents have shown very little desire to stay somewhere with numerous shuttered stores and restaurants.
When you tie in these factors to the plethora of new taxes and regulatory schemes that soak the middle class and the wealthy, it is obvious why the former titans of population growth seem to have feet of clay. The decline of liberal cities in blue states during a major crisis is perhaps the clearest judgment on a raft of bad policies. It will also accelerate the demographic shift when it comes to the political calculus with traditional red states, as seen in the results in Arizona and Georgia in the recent election.
The 2020 census data will be a treasure trove of information. But much of our current picture will likely be told and retold through family stories for generations. This year could be an inflection point for families, similar to how 1977 was the breaking point for many New York residents who faced the blackout, an economic crisis, and crime from the Son of Sam. All of the people who pulled up stakes had their eureka moment in which they ditched big cities for greener pastures. It turns out that this year was the juncture where millions of Americans had their own revelations.
Kristin Tate is a libertarian author and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is a Robert Novak journalism fellow at the Fund for American Studies. Her newest book is “The Liberal Invasion of Red State America.”