Philadelphia area population slips behind D.C. to seventh place

Listen
 (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

(Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

New U.S. Census figures show that Philadelphia’s metro area has ceded its title of sixth-most populous area in the country to Washington, D.C.

The Philly area is still growing, but its gains are slow compared with other big cities.

Experts cite one main reason for Philadelphia’s drop to seventh place in just one year — we’re not replacing people fast enough.

“I would think it’s going to continue to slip. Nationally, the population growth is shifting south and west,” said Rutgers University demographer James Hughes. “But just because your population is growing modestly, you can still market yourself for other factors.”

Many immigrants are moving to the Philly area, and young people are coming in droves. But it’s still not enough to offset the exodus.

“Young millennials, childless millennials, single millennials, are still flocking to the city. And when children come along, some tough decisions have to be made about where to locate,” Hughes said.

Whether they stay in large numbers when they have kids will make a big difference.

New York, LA, Chicago remain the top three population centers.

But the real story is in Texas. Four metros there collectively added almost half-a-million people. The Census even called its report “Texas Keeps Getting Bigger.”

In Philly, meanwhile, the population has climbed over nine years. But in context, it’s not that much. As the new figures show, Philly added 16,000 people in the last year. And what did D.C. add? More than 63,000. Should Philly be concerned about this?

“Not really, because there’s not much you can do about it,” Hughes said. “But, basically, Washington is driven by federal government spending.”

If the current trend continues, Atlanta and Miami metro areas will surpass Philadelphia’s population in five years.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.