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The Philadelphia skyline view from Penn Park on Oct. 28, 2022. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Philadelphia lost more than 22,000 residents between 2021 and 2022, a 1.4% decline in its total population, according to newly released census data. 

The decrease, the largest single-year drop since 1977, reverses more than a decade of growth. Philadelphia’s population peaked at 1.6 million residents in 2020 and has since seen a year-on-year decrease. The city now has the same population as in 2014. 

From 2017 to 2018, Philadelphia's population grew by a mere 3,900, with more people moving out than moving in. Over the past two years, the city experienced a net migration loss of nearly 50,000 residents.

A few factors have been blamed for the population loss, chief among them the COVID-19 pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, major cities in America faced urban exodus as families chose to relocate to suburbs.  

New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and D.C. all saw urban property value decrease while property values in their surrounding suburbs increased, according to a 2022 report by the Brookings Institution.

The report also stated that Philadelphia experienced an especially pronounced gap compared to other cities between urban and suburban property values during the pandemic.

Some argue that there are other factors that go beyond the pandemic that have contributed to Philadelphia’s population decline.

Kim Goyette, a Sociology professor at Temple, pointed to education as one of the causes of Philadelphia's net-loss migration.

Philadelphia's “high-education landscape” pulls young people into the city, “but once they start families, they move out,” she told the Inquirer in 2018.

Still, experts cautioned against extrapolating based on data from a single year. 

“One year change is not going to be a major impact, it’s the trend over time,” Katie Martin, project director at Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative, told the Inquirer. “We just have too few years of data at this point to say that this is a definitive trend.”