“I’m starting to really hate the cold,” my wife said, and not for the first time. The sort of thing Midwesterners say after spring dangles a couple of delightful days in our field of vision — 60, 65, even 70 degrees — then rudely slaps us across the face with a wet sock of miserable, damp, penetratingly cold days. It was 21 degrees Monday morning.
“Me too,” I mumbled.
COVID-19 seems to have unmoored everyone, in more ways than one. Time expands and contracts like clocks in a Dali painting. Civility crumbles. Reason becomes a bruising dash through our neighbors’ gantlet of speculation, conspiracy theory and outright hallucination.
We’re battered, tired, viewing the latest news through latticed fingers. We’ve also become unrooted, many of us. Americans are on the move, fleeing the frost, looking for some warm rock to hide under. A United States Census Bureau report released last week shows nine of the top 10 fastest-growing U.S. counties are in Arizona, Texas and Florida, where four of the top 10 fastest-growing metro areas are located.
Yet, like everything else, it’s a blurred picture. Cities in all climates are losing people — Los Angeles County topped the list of dwindling metro areas in raw numbers, with a 184,465 resident drop from July 2020 to July 2021. (The population of New York County fell by an astounding 6.9% in one year.) The Chicago metro area is down 106,897 people; the Census Bureau describes the metro area as “Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI” (and readers give me grief for living in Northbrook; from a demographic perspective, I’m practically sharing a $10-a-month apartment on Wabansia with Nelson Algren).
Though if you are looking for something positive, Cook County remains the second-largest U.S. county, with 5.1 million residents, behind only Los Angeles County. (Both benefit from a historical quirk — the five boroughs of New York City are five separate counties).
Population is dwindling everywhere — nearly three-quarters of U.S. counties, 73%, are in decline. “Natural decrease occurs when there are more deaths than births in a population over a given time period,” the Census Bureau points out. “In 2021, fewer births, and aging population and increased mortality — intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic — contributed to a rise in natural decrease.”
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