The Rust Belt's Strange Demographics (Free)

How South Bend Lost 50,000 People in 50 Years

Many Heartland cities continue to suffer the after effects of deindustrialization. One of them is South Bend, Indiana, the former mid-sized automobile manufacturing center home to the now defunct Studebaker.

Joseph Molnar is publishing a series at West.SB called “More People.” It’s a look at the population history of South Bend, looking at how the city managed to lose 50,000 people in 50 years, as the series introduction puts it. Part one looks at the neighborhoods of South Bend, and the different types of decline they experienced. Part two zeroes in on the role of declining average household size in fueling population loss.

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So far the series has been excellent, revealing a number of things that might be surprising to casual observers. For example, while losing population, South Bend actually added households every decade until the year 2000. But the decline in average household size overwhelmed the increase in the total number of households.

The housing crash in the 2000s caused a large drop in households. While some cities like Detroit had been known for a while for vacancy and abandonment, the housing crash is what really saw large scale vacancy spread to many Heartland cities. Previously, the housing stock was declining in value, but was still occupied because the number of households remained strong. This helps explain why vacancy became such a hot issue in the wake of the 2008 crash.

This series should provide a very good window into the population dynamics of older industrial cities throughout the Heartland.