Metropolitan America in the New Century: Metropolitan and Central City Demographic Shifts Since 2000

September 1, 2005


An analysis of population and migration change using decennial Census data and estimates from 1960 to 2004 for the newly-defined metropolitan areas announced by OMB in 2003 finds that:

  • The fast-growing metropolitan areas of the 1990s became some of the slowest-growing in the first half of the 2000s, reflecting shifts in regional employment and housing dynamics since the late 1990s. San Jose, San Francisco, and Boston moved onto the list of slowest-growing metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2004, likely propelled by the post-2000 decline of technology industries and still-rising housing costs. Meanwhile, non-coastal, more affordable areas like Riverside, Stockton, and Sacramento climbed to rank among the fastest-growing metros, while increased growth in Albany, Hartford, and Providence perhaps reflects their “release valve” function in the New York and Boston housing markets.

The rapid growth of several Sun Belt metro areas reflect the four-decade emergence of the South and West as major population growth centers, led by Las Vegas’s 1200 percent growth over that period. Of 88 large metro areas analyzed, 34 more than doubled, and 17 more than tripled in population between 1960 and 2004. All are located in the South and West regions. At the same time, 16 Northeast and Midwest metro areas grew by less than a quarter, including Rust Belt population decliners Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Scranton and Youngstown.

Immigration continues to drive growth in many large metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2004, but the fastest-growing metropolitan areas rely more heavily on domestic migration and natural increase. New York and Los Angeles remain the biggest immigrant magnets in the 2000-to- 2004 period, but continue to lose the most domestic migrants to other parts of the nation. In contrast, domestic migration and natural increase make the largest population contributions to fast-growing metro areas like Las Vegas, Riverside, and Raleigh.

The bulk of large central cities added population since 2000 and share the rising and falling fortunes of their metropolitan areas in the 2000s. Although some cities continue to rank among the fastest-growing (Bakersfield, Raleigh, Phoenix) or slowest-growing (Cincinnati, Youngstown, Birmingham) as in the 1990s, others have grown faster (Sacramento, Riverside) or started to lose population (Boston, San Francisco), reflecting shifts occurring in their broader metropolitan areas.

The overall pattern of population growth in large and small metro areas, micropolitan areas, and non-metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2004 generally parallel those found in the 1990s, rather than the more mixed results of previous decades. However, there is great variation among area types most recently. Large and small metro areas in the West grew at the same pace in the early 2000s, while rural or “non-metropolitan areas” as a whole lost population in the Midwest. Further, domestic migration plays a greater role in fueling growth in smaller metropolitan and micropolitan area growth than in large metropolitan areas.

In general, the first half of the 2000s mark a slowdown and reshuffling of population growth in metro areas from that found in the 1990s, reflecting the reactions of workers and households to the cooling of the job market in some places and the heating of housing prices in others. Overall, however, the estimates for this new decade show that large and small metro areas will continue to surge as they did in the 1990s.