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The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

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The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

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There are only two cities that have had the distinction of being named the most populous city in the United States.

The first city to hold the title was Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love was estimated to be the biggest city in the country at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

However, by the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia by a few thousand residents – and the Big Apple has stayed the largest in the country ever since.

From Then to Now

Today’s infographic comes to us from Liberty Cruise, and it ranks the 10 most populous cities in the United States for every decade since 1790.

To start, let’s take a look at what the list looked just after the first U.S. Census in 1790:

RankCityPopulation (1790)
#1New York City, NY33,131
#2Philadelphia, PA28,522
#3Boston, MA18,320
#4Charleston, SC16,359
#5Baltimore, MD13,503
#6Northern Liberties Township, PA9,913
#7Salem, MA7,921
#8Newport, RI6,716
#9Providence, RI6,380
#10Marblehead, MA5,661

It’s pretty surreal to think that some of the biggest cities in the late 18th century hosted no more than 6,000 residents.

It also may be a surprise to many that Rhode Island – a state that ranks 50th in size and 44th in population today – held two of the largest towns in the nation at the time: Newport and Providence.

The Modern List

Jump forward over 200 years, and New York City has not lost its top spot.

It helped that NYC was able to absorb Brooklyn – one of the country’s other largest cities – into its boundaries in 1898. Other major cities saw similar merges happen over the years, with Philadelphia absorbing Northern Liberties Township, for example.

Here is a list of the most populous U.S. cities in 2017 (est.):

RankCityPopulation (Est. 2017)Population (2010 Census)Change
#1New York City, NY8,622,6988,175,133+5.47%
#2Los Angeles, CA3,999,7593,792,621+5.46%
#3Chicago, IL2,716,4502,695,598+0.77%
#4Houston, TX2,312,7172,100,263+10.12%
#5Phoenix, AZ1,626,0781,445,632+12.48%
#6Philadelphia, PA1,580,8631,526,006+3.59%
#7San Antonio, TX1,511,9461,327,407+13.90%
#8San Diego, CA1,419,5161,307,402+8.58%
#9Dallas TX1,341,0751,197,816+11.96%
#10San Jose, CA1,035,317945,942+9.45%

In contrast to the NYC of today, the 1790 population looks more like a Long Island suburb.

This rapid urbanization is mainly thanks to Industrial Revolution, which triggered a massive migration to cities, allowing New York to grow 26,000% in total population.

Here’s how the population distribution of New York City’s five boroughs has changed over time:

NYC Borough population over time

Interested in learning more about the country’s largest cities?

See the electrifying pulse of a Manhattan workday or view a 3d map that shows how much U.S. metro areas contribute to economic growth.

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Real Estate

Charting 20 Years of Home Price Changes in Every U.S. City

This interactive visualization tracks two decades of home price changes in hundreds of cities in the United States.

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At the turn of the century, the average U.S. home value was $126,000. Today, that figure is at a record high $259,000 – a 106% increase in just two decades.

Of course, the path from A to B was anything but linear with a financial crisis, housing bubbles in major cities, and now COVID-19, which is drastically altering market dynamics.

How has the housing market evolved, on a city-by-city basis?

Two Decades of Housing Prices

The interactive visual below – created by Avison Young Global, using data from Zillow – is a comprehensive look at U.S. home price data over the past two decades.

Editor’s note: Click the circles at the top of the visualization to see other versions of the data, including price changes at the state and zip code level.

The Lay of the Land

A number of things become apparent when looking at historical data of hundreds of U.S. cities.

First, the trajectory of home prices is defined by the 2008 Financial Crisis. After prices took a steep dive, it took a full decade for the average home price to rise back up to the 2007 peak.

Next, broadly speaking, the U.S. average is being “pulled up” by the hottest regional markets. The majority of housing markets have seen between a 50% and 100% increase in price over the past 20 years. This is also true at the state level, where booming markets such as Hawaii saw price increases double the U.S. average.

Going West

The West Coast has seen dramatic home price appreciation in over the last two decades, a trend that permeated the entire region. Every single city tracked in this database beat the U.S. average.

West coast prices

California and Hawaii saw the biggest gains, with a number of cities ending up with a 200%+ increase over prices in 2000.

The biggest gains in the entire country over the time period was Madera, California, which is located just north of Fresno. The nearby cities of San Jose and San Francisco rose by an impressive 235% and 219%, respectively. As a practical example – during the meteoric rise of Silicon Valley, average prices in San Francisco shot up from $364,000 to $1.12 million.

Even the bottom city (Yakima, Washington) on the left coast saw an increase of 114%.

Slower Home Price Changes

In general, cities located in America’s “Rust Belt” states saw slower home price growth. In fact, every city in these five states saw price growth below the U.S. average.

Of the top 20 U.S. metros, Detroit and Chicago saw the slowest price growth over the past two decades. Flint, Michigan, was the only city in the country to see a price decline.

At the state level, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio were the bottom three in terms of home price appreciation.

A Useful Barometer

Looking at country or state level data fails to capture the incredible nuance of home values around the country.

That said, since the value of a primary residence makes a significant portion of wealth for most Americans, these price movements serve as a useful barometer of the health of the real estate market, and the economy as a whole.

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Business

Mapped: The Uneven Recovery of U.S. Small Businesses

Across the U.S., 37% of small businesses are still shuttered. This map demonstrates how uneven that closure rate is in cities around the country.

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Mapped: The Uneven Recovery of U.S. Small Businesses

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, employing nearly half of the private sector workforce.

Unfortunately, lockdown and work-from-home measures brought about by COVID-19 have disproportionately affected small businesses – particularly in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

As metro-level data from Opportunity Insights points out, geography makes a great deal of difference in the proportion of U.S. small businesses that have flipped their open sign. While some cities are mostly back to business as usual, others are in a situation where the majority of small businesses are still shuttered.

The Big Picture

In the U.S. as a whole, data suggests that nearly a quarter of all small businesses remain closed. Of course, the situation on the ground differs from place to place. Here’s how cities around the country are doing, sorted by percentage of small businesses closed as of September 2020:

MetrosSmall Businesses ClosedSmall Businesses Closed (Leisure & Hosp.)
San Francisco-49%-65%
New Orleans-45%-72%
Honolulu-41%-39%
Washington DC-37%-55%
San Jose-35%-41%
Portland-34%-46%
San Antonio-34%-60%
Sacramento-33%-43%
Boston-33%-42%
Oakland-32%-52%
Austin-32%-65%
Bakersfield-31%-64%
Houston-30%-58%
Seattle-28%-47%
San Diego-28%-41%
Baltimore-28%-43%
Detroit-28%-44%
Los Angeles-27%-39%
Chicago-27%-37%
Tucson-27%-37%
Atlanta-26%-33%
Fresno-26%-50%
Oklahoma City-26%-56%
Cleveland-26%-39%
Denver-26%-56%
Indianapolis-25%-29%
Denver-25%-38%
El Paso-25%-34%
Philadelphia-24%-34%
Tulsa-23%-40%
Albuquerque-23%-42%
Colorado Springs-23%-37%
Louisville-23%-25%
Miami-23%-38%
Fort Worth-22%-34%
Las Vegas-22%-35%
Tampa-22%-45%
Milwaukee-22%-30%
New York City-21%-40%
Dallas-21%-38%
Memphis-21%-37%
Minneapolis-21%-36%
Nashville-21%-39%
Columbus-21%-35%
Phoenix-19%-36%
Jacksonville-18%-35%
Salt Lake City-18%-24%
Charlotte-18%-42%
Raleigh-16%-34%
Wichita-15%-29%
Kansas City-15%-24%
Omaha-13%-14%

New Orleans and the Bay Area are still experiencing rates of small business closures that are almost double the national median.

Small businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have been particularly hard hit, with 37% reporting no transaction data.

Getting Back to Business

Some cities are seeing rates of small business operation that are nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Change in small businesses open by city - back to normal

Of the cities covered in the data set, Omaha had the highest rate of small businesses open.

Still Shuttered

In cities with a large technology sector, such as San Francisco and Austin, COVID-19 is shaking up the economic patterns as entire companies switched to remote working almost overnight. This is bad news for the constellation of restaurants and services that cater to those workers.

Change in small businesses open by city - still closed

Likewise, cities that have an economy built around serving visitors – Honolulu and New Orleans, for example – have seen a very high rate of small business closures as vacations and conferences have been paused indefinitely.

As the pandemic drags on, many of these temporary closures are looking to be permanent. Yelp recently reported that of the restaurants marked as closed on their platform, 61% are shut down permanently. As well, businesses in the retail and nightlife categories also saw more than half of closures become permanent.

In Remembrance of Revenue

A business being completely closed is a definitive measure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Even for businesses that remained open, revenue is often far below pre-pandemic rates.

small businesses revenue covid-19

Once again, businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have been hit the hardest, with revenue falling by almost half since the beginning of 2020.

At present, it’s hard to predict when, or even if, economic activity will completely recover. Though travel and some level of in-office work will eventually ramp back up, the small business landscape will continue to face major upheaval in the meantime.

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