Microblog #102: What’s pushing people out of America’s big cities?

America’s biggest cities are shrinking. Is it just a blip, or a look into our future?

America’s three largest metros—New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—shrank in 2018, continuing a pattern that began halfway through the decade. Following a brief period of growth after the housing crisis and recession, the total populations of the three cities fell drastically, by about 100,000 each. So what’s causing this exodus?

Astute readers already know one answer: housing! As the wealthy move into downtowns, more luxury high-rises get built, and property values go up. Areas where the middle class could have lived 10 years ago are now out of reach. Coupled with the already massive shortage of affordable housing, this is no recipe for urban population growth.

Another factor is immigration. Before 2018, international immigrants counted for the majority of these three largest metros’ population growth. But last year, immigration into the cities was far less than earlier in the decade. Experts point to a host of factors, including more stringent immigration policy and better conditions in some immigrants’ home countries.

A third factor is the new generation of would-be metro movers: millennials. Developers have figured out the amenity mix that attracts them, including coffee shops, farm-to-table restaurants—and even places with “bar” in the name that don’t serve alcohol. Once big city treasures, these amenities are coming to smaller cities and metros where housing prices are better. Why would you move to Brooklyn when you could get the same experience in Richmond for half the price?

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