American mutation: the pitfalls of plummeting population

A groundbreaking study out of Chicago has confirmed a troubling trend that is changing America: the depopulation of our cities.

This leading-edge analysis, Depopulation and associated challenges for US cities by 2100, was a team effort from the University of Illinois Chicago. Their shocking conclusion? Half of America’s 30,000 cities will have population decline this century.

The study’s rigorous scholarship is no less monumental than its findings. Over 24,000 American cities were examined to document that de-urbanisation is no longer an aberration, but the new normal with no end in sight. Consider: urbanisation was prevalent for most of American history. As the economy grew, people left the country and headed for cities where prosperity beckoned. All was well while it lasted.

Those days are over. The Idea of Progress, the secular faith in a country weaned on individualism and unlimited frontiers, is sputtering to an end. As yours truly posited in these pages last year:

The Idea of Progress, the belief that history ineluctably proceeds towards material well-being and a better life, took hold and superseded religious faith. This belief emerged from Enlightenment empiricism. Mankind had come to believe in itself: Master of the Universe. Modernism was born.

The UI Chicago researchers have unwittingly revealed that Modernism is retrogression. “Modern” has done a 180, and the mantra of perpetual growth wanes. Remember that old Chinese curse about living in interesting times?

Fascinating findings

The UI Chicago disquisition elicited a priceless Fox News clickbait header: “Thousands of US cities are predicted to become ghost towns by 2100: New study.” While things are not that dire, urban America’s decline is underway.

That is problematic. Urban infrastructure has been designed and built to accommodate existing populations as well as anticipated growth. Water systems and electrical grids are expensive to maintain; a declining tax base will lead to reduced services:

Given the current challenges with aging infrastructure in the United States, this reduced financial capacity will probably lead to a lower level of service and even cascade to create unaffordable services. For example, repaving some roads and providing some transit services may become prohibitively expensive… and electric and water utilities may have to raise their rates given the reduced revenue from depopulation, which can create affordability issues that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.

Below replacement fertility, urban blight and tight money signal the mutation of America’s optimistic “progress” zeitgeist to something less rosy.   

The impact on suburban and peri-urban (transitioning from rural to urban) areas is pronounced. Population increases there drain residents from the core cities. As a result, the remaining/left-behind urban core is disproportionately poor. Those are the “vulnerable populations” referenced in the study.

Places like Cleveland, Detroit, Birmingham, Memphis and St. Louis are prime examples. Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi received national attention for their deteriorating water services. While many factors are involved, urban out-migration and shrinking tax bases have set the stage for manifold problems. 

Street and road maintenance will be “economised”. Prioritising maintenance and upgrades will be contentious. Reduced public transportation will affect those who need it most. Public water/sewer, waste disposal and electrical systems will curtail services.

Affordable housing will be another casualty as underutilised infrastructure is decommissioned. That happened in Detroit when the middle class decamped for the suburbs. Entire city blocks were condemned, residents relocated, services cut and fenced off. The Visitors and Convention Bureau does not publicise such things.


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America has its slowest population growth ever, though illegal alien numbers are elusive. Reliance on immigration has been the easy way to find cheap labour and prop up urban population. That’s not working anymore. Per the study:

  • Asian and Hispanic immigrants now favour smaller communities outside big cities.
  • Urban depopulation is most severe in the Northeast and Midwest. Out West, southern California is the region most affected.
  • Urban depopulation is coming to the Rocky Mountain states, long considered a refuge from frenzied California and the Northeast.

How to address this?

What is certain is that an important cultural shift in planning and engineering communities is needed, away from conventional, growth-based planning, to accommodate a dramatic demographic shift. [Emphasis added]

Note “dramatic demographic shift”. Any way you slice it, we’re talking about the decline of urban America.

How it started

Following the Martin Luther King assassination (1968), cities burned. Turmoil engulfed inner-city ghettoes. Racial tensions flared. White flight ensued, where folks voted with their feet to the suburbs.

What happened? LBJ’s Great Society, a colossal fiasco with its “War on Poverty”. This vastly expanded social welfare bureaucracy, giving rise to illogical relief schemes. One such program mandated higher assistance payments if there was no adult male (potential breadwinner) in the household. Talk about undermining the family. Why work when you could get by otherwise?

Then came food stamps, a second currency undermining the dollar. The welfare class metastasised. That, along with the swelling cadre of social services workers, boosted the client base of the Democratic Party. 

PC penetrated law enforcement. Rather than uphold “law and order” (which itself became a code word for racism), authorities ceded the streets and advised people to just avoid certain areas.

Mass immigration depressed wages. Attendant congestion further diminished the appeal of urban living. Drug abuse skyrocketed, savaging families.

Birthrates plunged to below-replacement level, reflecting changing priorities, wokeism and ever-tightening finances. Urban living is no longer worth it for so many upwardly mobile types.

Then came the crippling triple whammy: Covid lockdowns shut down communities, wrecked the economy and sewed fear and division. Remote work became an option. There is no going back.

How others see us

An old friend is a veteran China Hand – sinologist, linguist, and analyst rolled into one. Smart guy. He says some Chinese scholars are fascinated with America’s decline. They say stuff like, “Don’t your leaders see this?” “Why won’t they do something?” “Can’t you even control your borders?” 

Like Ancient Rome, America lost the republic and became an empire. Globalism rules. Whenever that happens, the sense of national identity, thus national pride, fades. What it even means to be an American is up for debate. Mammonism, demoralisation and anomie set in, and the rest is history.

It is not surprising that America’s cities are being depopulated. What goes around comes around.

Louis T. March has a background in government, business, and philanthropy. A former talk show host, author, and public speaker, he is a dedicated student of history and genealogy. Louis lives with his family in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Image: Pexels


Showing 10 reactions

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  • mrscracker
    Mr. Steven,
    The US has always been a more violent society than the UK-at least over the last 250 or so years. The UK had plenty of crime going on back in the day but they could ship offenders off to the American colonies or the West Indies. Later to Tasmania & Australia. I suppose it might make a difference in outcomes when that’s been an option.
    If anything, we have too few violent offenders incarcerated in the US. Our correctional facilities routinely early-prelease dangerous sociopaths back into society to prey again & other offenders take plea deals. Those non-violent inmates addicted to drugs need rehab more than prison, white collar criminals should make restitution in other ways, but the violent criminals need to stay behind bars.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-31 10:17:43 +1100
    I want you all to take a good look at this article.

    U Chicago finds that some towns will shrink and others grow.

    Surprise, surprise. This sort of thing has only been going on since humanity invented towns and villages. It’s been going on since long before anyone thought of “woke” and long before LBJ’s “Great Society.”

    The only surprise from the U Chicago study is that it’s happening on a greater scale than was generally realised. All the rest is “Louis T” punting his favourite hobby horses.

    Does anyone seriously think Detroit would be a bustling metropolis if there was no “woke”? If LBJ’s Great Society had never happened?

    A sensible response to the U Chicago report would be:

    —What, if anything, can or should be done to help some of the affected cities become more attractive?

    —How can cities with declining populations best cope?

    In other words, something is happening. It will have an adverse effect on many people. How about constructive suggestions for dealing with it.

    That “can do” attitude is what I’d call “The American Way”. Se a problem and tackle it.

    And that is what America has lost. It has nothing to do with The Great Society and much to do with the influence of merchants of rage and anxiety like Louis T.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-31 09:59:10 +1100
    mrscracker not everyone benefits from illegal immigration. The people who benefit are business owners who get access to very cheap labour and can literally work them to death. And I doubt they care much about the general welfare.

    As for lawlessness, what makes you think illegal immigrants are any more lawless than the rest of America?

    Some numbers comparing Australia to United States in proportion to population.

    Remember this, in proportion to population.

    You have 4X times as many people in prison as Australia and Australia has a high incarceration rate compared to other developed countries. In other words, you’re 4X times worse than the next worst.

    You have 5X more homicides than Australia. Australia is about average for developed countries. The United States is by far the worst. And, guess what, most of those killers were born in the United States.

    In proportion to population American law enforcement kills more people every year than Australian cops do in a decade.

    Just as shocking, in proportion to population more American cops die in the line of duty than Australian cops in a decade.

    Let’s face it, you’re a pretty violent, lawless society.

    I am not anti-American. But facts are facts.

    Since World War 2 the United States, warts and all, has, on balance, been a force for stability and prosperity in the world. As great powers go, it has been relatively – the emphasis on relatively – benign.

    Your internal civil war is not merely threatening you, it is threatening to destabilise the whole world.

    If you go on like this your main strategic rival, China, is going to win by default.

    And most of your fighting is about nothing. It’s manufactured outrage and anxiety.

    And about birth rates, I have no magic formula for raising them. But I do see that corporate America is doing a pretty good job of making it ever harder to raise children. Maybe what you need is a bit of (shudder, gasp, horror) “socialism”?
  • mrscracker
    I think everyone benefits from illegal immigration but not always in ways that are in a nation’s best interest. I just got back from visiting in the Caribbean & lawlessness can really pull down an entire community. It’s very sad & not something we want to emulate here.
    I don’t believe Mr. March is anti immigrant. He appears to be attempting to draw our attention to critical demographic issues. The Daily Mail just ran an article with a list of the US cities most quickly declining in population. It’s something we should be paying attention to, not outrage.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-31 08:30:49 +1100
    Hi mrscracker

    Has it struck that powerful interests benefit from having an immigration system that’s “a mess” and “merchants of outrage” like Louis T make their living selling outrage?
  • mrscracker
    Hello Mr. Steven, I hope you are well & having a blessed day.
    I don’t think you’ll ever find any comments from me that denigrate immigrants. To the contrary. Immigrants are what the USA is built upon. But our immigration system is a mess & we have no solution in sight as long as illegal entry remains a way for either political party to get people stirred up during elections & garner votes. If we could learn something from the Canadian immigration system we’d have some progress but I’m not holding my breath.
    All we are doing now is enriching the trafficking cartels & those who profit from that on the US side. As long as illegal immigration benefits everyone, there’s no incentive to fix it.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-30 08:02:30 +1100
    mrscracker, at 1.78 babies per woman US fertility, while below replacement, is well ahead of most of Europe.

    The US is also very good at attracting high quality immigrants and incorporating them into the labour force. This is a strength, not a weakness.

    The only danger I see to America is … America. You guys are in the throes of a civil war. Different factions loathe and fear each other with a ferocity that is frightening to behold. Each sides believes it is the sole repository of all that is good and true and the other is evil and must be destroyed.

    You allow yourselves to be driven into a frenzy or into the depths of despair by people like, well, like Louis T. March.

    In the words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us”

    Ideology blinds. When you view everything through an ideological lens it prevents you from seeing reality. That’s why people like Louis T. March and his left-wing counterparts, are not part of the solution. To a significant extent they are the problem.
  • mrscracker
    The USA only looks ok demographically because of immigration. Minus that we’d be ageing & declining even faster.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-29 18:52:41 +1100
    Aaah the dreaded wokemonster causing all sorts of ills.

    The headline is somewhat misleading. US population is not “plummeting”. It’s still growing and is projected to go on on growing for a while yet. Compared to other developed countries America’s demographics are pretty good.

    What is happening is that certain cities – mostly second and third tier cities – are experiencing population decline. Of course anyone who thinks he knows what 2100 will be like is delusional but I think many cities will depopulate. There are places where anyone with any ambition or enterprise wants to leave. Once that starts there’s generally no hope of a reversal. The left behind are, quite literally, the less intelligent less energetic people.

    What about rising welfare dependency. That’s the flip side of wage stagnation and, more realistically, wage decline.

    Interestingly what is happening to the “proletariat” – ie the bottom 80% of the population – is pretty much what Karl Marx predicted for late stage capitalism in Das Kapital. Score one for the bearded guy you all love to hate.

    Every now and then someone rediscovers Marx’s insights and updates them, The latest is Peter Turchin and his “wealth pump”.

    “One is the presence of a perverse “wealth pump” which, after years of more equitable wealth distribution, takes from the poor and gives to the rich”

    End Times by Peter Turchin review – can we predict the collapse of societies?

    In the US the Social Security system is one huge wealth pump. It transfers wealth from the poor to the not-poor.

    But there are other wealth pumps.

    I am neither a “Marxist” nor a (Louis T) “Marchist”. However, when it comes to analysis of societies the bearded one is actually more dispassionate and, get this, less ideological than Louis T.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-01-29 17:16:20 +1100
    What makes you think a growing population will make housing more affordable? Only the opposite has happened. When things become scarce, prices increase. It’s basic supply and demand.