Over the past few weeks, I’ve noted how, as COVID-19 mask mandates fall by the wayside, the nation is moving away from what now appears to be excessive risk aversion. And I described the National Bureau of Economic Research paper assessing how the costs of closures outweighed the benefits.
As expected, the damage was not geographically uniform. COVID-19 restrictions were toughest in the largest metropolitan areas, as the dangers of contagion appeared to be greatest in areas where people are so densely packed. And it’s also because those regions tend to be in states with Democratic governors, and Democrats have been more risk averse than Republicans.
Evidence for this comes from the Census Bureau’s population estimates as of July 1, 2021, compared to the results of the regular decennial census taken on April 1, 2020. The data shows the smallest percentage population increase in history American, just 0.13%.
An unprecedented number of 18 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have all lost their population. The highest percentages of population losses occurred in Washington, D.C. (-2.8%), New York (-1.8%), Illinois (-1.1%) and California ( -0.8%) – all densely populated, all politically awake.
The 2021 population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas provide an additional lens. A map of counties showing population gains or losses shows hundreds of small counties losing population – as many have done for decades.
But the largest losses, both in terms of population and percentage, occurred in four of the six largest metropolitan areas in the country: San Francisco/San Jose (-2.6%), New York (-1, 8%), Chicago (-1.1%) and Los Angeles. Angeles/Riverside (-0.8%). Each of the top three, in just 15 months from April 2020 to July 2021, lost a population that was equivalent to 20% of its total population gain in the 20 years between 2000 and 2020. The figure for Los Angeles/Riverside was lower at 7%, but it’s still stunning.
Together, these four metropolitan areas lost 805,000 people (figures are rounded for clarity), while the rest of the country gained 1,239,000.
These are alarming numbers in four metropolitan areas that, even after these population losses, continue to be home to 1 in 6 (16%) people in the United States. At least temporarily, they lost affluent professionals who could make money zooming in from their summer locations.
But it is also remarkable, and probably more permanent, that people of modest education and income fled far beyond the suburbs. This is not true everywhere: Downtown counties in metropolitan areas #4 and #5, Dallas and Houston, lost population, but this was more than offset by gains in counties above. of the. The population of metro Dallas increased by 4.9% in 2020-2021 and that of metro Houston by 3.5%.
As demographics expert Joel Kotkin has argued, even before COVID-19, the country’s population growth and economic dynamism were disproportionately concentrated in the suburbs, which typically have reasonable tax rates and development-friendly regulations.
Exurban growth slowed immediately after the 2008 financial meltdown, which was triggered by the overstimulation of exurban housing, especially among Hispanic residents. But, as Kotkin noted, growth quickly picked up in the suburbs and parts of the Rocky Mountains and northern woods. Where it’s lacking is in the high-tax outlying suburbs of New York, New Jersey and California.
Many are optimistically predicting a return to central cities as lockdowns and masking are reluctantly phased out. Even so, the steep 2020-21 population declines in Manhattan, heavily gentrified Washington, and trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens suggest it could be an uphill battle.
Young people who have gotten stuck in the hip, hip neighborhoods of these neighborhoods may not find their way home. And if they can change the tone of the more conventional places they land, they may also end up living more conventionally than if they had remained planted in their cozy greenhouses.
Their apparent disappearance is further evidence of the self-harm that liberal and progressive politicians have inflicted on their core constituents in the age of COVID-19. Progressive teachers’ unions have successfully kept schools in progressive areas closed for two years, with mask mandates remaining in effect, so many parents have sought alternatives. Public school enrollment is down, while Catholic school enrollment is up, and home schooling and demand for charter schools are on the rise.
Meanwhile, violent crime rates have skyrocketed since the George Floyd riots of June 2020, and there are signs that voters even in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco are backing down. Those four major metropolitan areas won President Joe Biden by nearly 8 million voters, while former President Donald Trump won the other five-sixths nationwide by just under a million. Eighteen months later, it seems that this balance is changing.
Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.