Once Successful American Cities That Are Now Struggling to Survive

Ryan McLachlan
Photo Credit: Barry Lewis / Corbis News / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Barry Lewis / Corbis News / Getty Images

Across the United States, there are cities that are a far cry from what they once were. Detroit or other cities quickly come to mind. Once known for their industries, with a large, flourishing population living in and around the cities, this has now changed with unemployment and poverty increasing and salaries decreasing.

Here are five American cities that were once successful and are now struggling to survive.

Fresno, California

Downtown Fresno, Calif., skyline can be seen below snow caps the Sierra Nevada mountains and clouds along the foothills, Dec. 14, 2009.
Fresno, California. (Photo Credit: Craig Kohlruss / Fresno Bee / Tribune News Service / Getty Images)

Fresno is located in the San Joaquin Valley, California. It is the largest city in the greater Central Valley region and the fifth-most populated city in the state. The city is an agricultural hub with about 45,000 people being employed in farming, fishing, and forestry industries, which are the most concentrated agricultural workers in the world.

Agriculture, however, is one of the lowest-paying industries in the United States. The average income in Fresno, as of 2019, was only $25,260, which was in the lowest 10 percent in the United States. Between 2009 and 2013, over a quarter of Fresno residents lived under the poverty line. The city’s unemployment rate, as of 2019, was 7.2 percent. This is quite the change since 1959 when the average income was $14,579, which was very close to the national average.

Atlanta, Georgia

Buckhead Skyline view from Faith Hope & Love Gospel Brunch at Tesserae At Thompson Buckhead on October 2, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Prince Williams / Wireimage / Getty Images)

Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the state of Georgia. The city was founded on December 29, 1847. In the 1980s, Ted Turner founded various networks in the city, including Cable News Network (CNN),  Turner Classic Movies (TMC), and Cartoon Network (CN). Various corporations call Atlanta home, including Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, and Dunkin Donuts.

The city, which has been nicknamed the Silicon Peach due to its having the fourth-largest concentration of tech-related jobs, also has an incredibly high poverty rate. Between 2009 and 2013, it was reported that a quarter of Atlanta’s population lived in poverty, which was almost half a million people. And as of 2014, the city’s poor areas have been growing.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee skyline as photographed along Interstate 94 on August 16, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, the fifth-largest city in the Midwest, and the 31st-largest city in the United States. The city was incorporated on January 31, 1846. Since the 1840s, the city became synonymous with beer and, at one time, home to Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller, four of the world’s largest breweries. Milwaukee was also the world’s beer-producing capital for a number of years.

The city of Milwaukee has also been the home of various fictional characters and television shows such as Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. The city ultimately fell during a recession. Between 2009 and 2013, over 29 percent of Milwaukee’s population lived below the poverty line. Unemployment reached 600,000 people in March 2015, it sat at 7.4 percent.

Memphis, Tennessee

The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, stands in Memphis, Tennessee, US.
Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Andrea Morales / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Memphis is the second most populated city in Tennessee after Nashville. The fifth-most populated city in the Southeast, it is the largest city that borders the Mississippi River and the 28th largest city in the country. Memphis is known, more than anything else, for its music. That being said, the city has a connection to the American Civil Rights Movement. It is the city in which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and it is the location of the National Civil Rights Museum.

FedEx is the largest employer in the city, with its air hub located at Memphis International Airport. Based on average income, some Memphis residents are better off than 72 percent of other Americans. That being said, as of May 2015, Memphis’ unemployment sat at 6.6 percent, 1.3 percent higher than the national average. And between 2009 and 2013, it was reported that over 25 percent of the population lived under the poverty line, greater than the statistics for the whole state.

Detroit, Michigan

Two sides to Detroit. In the foreground, an old, rundown house, and in the background, General Motors (GM) headquarters.
Detroit, Michigan, February 24, 2013. (Photo Creidt J.D. Pooley / Stringer / Getty Images

Detroit is the largest city in the state of Michigan and also the largest American city on the United States-Canada border. The city was founded on July 24, 1701, and was the site of fighting during the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. The city emerged in the early 20th century when Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. With other automotive pioneers following, Detroit became the world’s automotive capital.

Today, Detroit is a far cry from what it was. In May 2015, Detroit’s unemployment rate sat at 6.6 percent, and between 2009 and 2013, 40 percent of the population lived under the poverty line. The city filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and Detroit’s average income has been the lowest in the United States. In 2015, it was reported that this was $26,325, which was significantly less than the average for Michigan alone, which was $48,411.