Economists' Outlook

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Largest Cities In The United States In 1776, And In 2076

At the time of the nation’s independence the total population in the U.S. was 2.5 million. Philadelphia was the largest city with 40,000 residents - which would only fill about half the capacity at Lincoln Financial Field where its football team plays home games today. The Quaker-populated city back then was very peaceful and civil, very unlike the Eagle fans of today.

In 1776, the next largest cities were New York City (25,000 people), Boston (15,000), Charleston (12,000), and Newport (11,000). All are rough estimates as the U.S. Census enumeration did not begin until the 1790.

Today, in 2012, the U.S. population has blossomed to 311 million. The largest metropolitan areas are, in order, (1) New York City, (2) Los Angeles, (3) Chicago, (4) Dallas, and (5) Houston. The metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are used for comparison rather than city geographic boundaries because suburban populations matter in today’s local economy, as evidenced by daily traffic jams in these metro areas.

By the 300th anniversary of the nation’s birth in 2076, the U.S. population will have grown to anywhere between 520 million and 590 million, depending upon whether the population growth rate is somewhat slow at 0.8 percent each year or matches the recent average of 1.0 percent each year.

But which city will be the largest in 2076? So much can change between now and then, but my best guess is that southern cities will see most of the gains while northern cities lag behind.  Job growth has been consistently much faster in Sun Belt cities. For example, Buffalo was considered a large city with nearly ½ million workers in the region in 1950. But Buffalo has about the same number of jobs today while Charlotte zoomed from 200,000 jobs in 1970 to over 800,000 today.

Other similar examples abound of faster growth in sunnier places. Big-shouldered Chicago had more jobs than all of mighty Texas back in 1950. But not anymore. Pittsburgh offers another example of past glory. A thick accented Scottish immigrant named Carnegie literally built Pittsburgh and the city was full of mansions and wealth well into the 1950s. Today, people are heading to the desert in Phoenix with their retirement money.

My prediction, therefore, is that the biggest cities in the U.S. in 2076 will be:
(1) New York
(2) Houston
(3) Atlanta
(4) Washington, D.C.
(5) Phoenix

Real estate values in prime locations of these cities will be especially high. Chicago and Pittsburgh do not make the list, though they can comfort in the fact that there will still be plenty of Bears and Steelers fans cheering at football games played in Phoenix.

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