HOUSTON VS. CHICAGO
The City of Houston added 8,235 residents last year, the
smallest increase for the city since ’07. Houston’s population
growth peaked in ’15 and has trended down since.
Slower growth for the city was expected, given the persistent
weakness in the local economy. Population estimates
for the metro area, discussed in April’s Houston: The
Economy at a Glance, display a similar trend.
The media quickly pounced when the U.S. Census Bureau
released the data in May, reporters proclaiming the date
Houston overtakes Chicago as the nation’s third most
populous city had been pushed into the distant future.
They were right, but for the wrong reason.
As recently as ’15, when momentum from the recent boom
carried Houston forward, the city added over 43,000
residents. Chicago lost about 1,400 that year. The math
seemed simple enough. With a gap of only 442,000
residents separating the Bayou City from the Windy City,
Houston would overtake Chicago in less than 10 years,
which at the time placed the transition around ’25.
The gap has narrowed since then. Only 404,000 residents
separate the two cities today. Houston’s growth, however,
has slowed to a trickle, and Chicago’s population continues
to leak away. The home of the Bears, Bulls, Cubs and
Blackhawks lost 3,800 residents in ’17, about 0.1 percent
of the city’s population. Houston’s growth fell to about
one-fifth its previous peak.2 Again, the math seems simple.
Based on last year’s growth, Houston will overtake
Chicago, but not for another 34 years. In ’52, when the
Class of ’18 reaches middle age, Houston will become the
nation’s third most populous city.