The rise and fall and rise of Providence’s population

That’s the number of people living in the City of Providence as of each U.S. Census since 1790, the second year of George Washington’s presidency.

As you can see, Providence’s population peaked at 253,504 in 1940, then dropped nearly 40% over the next four decades as people flocked to the suburbs in the years after World War II.

The city stopped the bleeding at 156,804 in 1980 and then slowly recovered some of its losses over the 30 years since, with the population rising to 178,042 in 2010.

Thankfully, then, Providence is no Detroit. But that’s still 75,462 fewer people than were living here on the eve of the Second World War.

By another measure, though, the city has been losing ground since John Adams was president.

Rhode Island’s capital was the ninth-largest American city by population in 1800 – the equivalent of Dallas in today’s U.S. – and was 20th-largest as late as 1900, according to Census records.

But the postwar exodus pushed the city steadily down the list during the latter half of the 20th century, from No. 37 in 1940 to No. 43 in 1950; No. 56 in 1960; No. 71 in 1970; and No. 100 in 1980, the last year Providence made the rankings.

OK, now let’s do some crowd-sourcing. All the Census data about Rhode Island released today is available here – dig in and share what you find interesting in the comments section below.

Update: South Kingstown? More like South Boomtown! Census shows S.K., Cumberland grow most.

Earlier: Rhode Island population inched up since 2000 (Dec. 21)

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