KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Memphis’ population loss is unusual for a southern city, a University of Tennessee population specialist said Wednesday.
Dr. Thomas Bell said Memphis’ population, which recently dipped below 600,000 for the first time since the 1960’s, is more typical of what has occurred in large, northern industrial cities.
“In parts of the nation known as the old industrial manufacturing belt roughly encompassing Boston, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C., a lot of large cities have declined in population,” Bell said. “But the probability of that happening in the sunbelt is low.
“It has happened in cities like Birmingham and now Memphis, but it is the exception rather than the rule.”
The U-S Census Bureau says Memphis’ population is under 597,000 residents — down almost 22,000 since the 1990 Census count.
Bell said Tennessee’s other large cities have adjusted to a more service-based economy, while Memphis has been unable to do so. Some of the loss may be from people moving to suburbs, but most is from people moving elsewhere for jobs, he said.
“Memphis is languishing,” Bell said. “It has lost much of its function as a wholesaling center for the entire mid-south region. Some cities just do not make it into the service sector like others do.”
Bell said the city’s infrastructure and revitalization efforts, such as downtown renovation and tourism promotion, will help stem the population slide.
“Memphis has made a rough transition from industry and wholesaling to its present economy, but it’s got too much going for it to continue losing population,” Bell said. “I would think it will eventually bottom out and gradually increase again.”
Contact: Dr. Thomas Bell (423-974-2418)