Big cities saw historic population losses while suburban growth declined during the pandemic

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Much has been written about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on big-city populations. Brookings Metro’s recent analysis of large metropolitan area declines makes plain that during the prime year of the pandemic (from July 2020 to July 2021) there were outsized population losses in the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas. But more recent Census Bureau estimates focusing on cities (rather than metropolitan areas) show the pandemic’s impact to be even more dramatic, with unprecedented losses across the 88 U.S. cities with populations exceeding 250,000 residents.

This analysis places these estimates in the context of recent decades’ trends, when America’s big cities experienced noticeable ups and downs. It then shifts the focus to the suburbs of major metropolitan areas, which—while benefitting somewhat from recent city population losses—tend to display growth slowdowns of their own.

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