Washington Sets the Pace in Northern Atlantic Region

2016-07-21-Northern-Atlantic-Region-Cities-GraphicThe accompanying tables rank seven major cities along America’s northern Atlantic coastline according to eight demographic and economic criteria. In the ‘overall’ listing that appears at the end of this article, Washington comes out best and Philadelphia worst. To reach those conclusions, however, it has been necessary to journey through the following data sets.


Population size: It’s no surprise that New York (20.2 million) is number one in terms of population size. Washington and Philadelphia (both with 6.1 million) are virtually tied for second. Across the U.S. as a whole, the population of Los Angeles (13.3 million) is not as big a step back from ‘The Big Apple’ as one might suppose.

Seven Cities (MSAs) in
Atlantic Coast Region Ranked by:

Population Estimates
As at July 1 2015
1 New York, NY 20.182
2 Washington, DC 6.098
3 Philadelphia, PA 6.070
4 Boston, MA 4.774
5 Baltimore, MD 2.797
6 Providence, RI 1.613
7 Richmond, VA 1.271

Population change: With respect to population change, measured as the average annual growth rate over the latest two years for which statistics are available, Washington (+1.12%) is on top, followed by Richmond (+1.00%). New York (+0.47%) is in the middle and Philadelphia (+0.28%) and Providence (+0.25%) are barely making any headway at all.

Annual Average Population Growth,
 Latest 2 Year, 2013 to 2015
Annual Avg. 
1 Washington, DC 1.12%
2 Richmond, VA 1.00%
3 Boston, MA 0.81%
4 New York, NY 0.47%
5 Baltimore, MD 0.43%
6 Philadelphia, PA 0.28%
7 Providence, RI 0.25%

Housing Starts: Residential building permits, as compiled by the Census Bureau and readily made available at the website of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), serve as the equivalent of new home starts for cities in the U.S. Through May of this year, New York (14,582 units) has been the leader in the number of residential building permits issued. Washington (10,937) has placed second. Providence hasn’t even exceeded 1,000-units.

Year-to-date Residential
Building Permits (through May 16)
1 New York, NY        14,582
2 Washington, DC        10,937
3 Philadelphia, PA          4,846
4 Boston, MA          4,426
5 Baltimore, MD          2,828
6 Richmond, VA          2,108
7 Providence, RI              962

Change in homebuilding activity: New York may be the frontrunner in number of residential building permits issued so far in 2016, but its year-over-year performance has been abysmal, -60.0%. Boston has also had a tough opening five months, -25%. The leader in percentage change has been Providence, but that’s mainly because its base value (i.e., the denominator) is so low. Rather, the city that truly stands out in this category is Washington with a gain of +23.0%.

Residential Building Permits
May 2016 Ytd vs. May 2015 Ytd
% Change
1 Providence, RI 76.0%
2 Washington, DC 23.0%
3 Philadelphia, PA 7.0%
3 Richmond, VA 7.0%
5 Baltimore, MD 3.0%
6 Boston, MA -25.0%
7 New York, NY -60.0%

Resale Housing Prices: As for resale single-family home prices, there isn’t much separation at the top of the ranking between New York ($381,000), Boston ($378,500) and Washington ($370,400), according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Those three urban centers are pricier than anywhere else in the U.S. except Denver, which is on a par with them, and cities along the West Coast, a number of which are far more expensive. Along the northern Atlantic Coast, Philadelphia ($203,900) is cheapest.

Q1 16 Median Sales Price of
Existing Single-family Home
$s (USD)
1 New York, NY $381,000
2 Boston, MA $378,500
3 Washington, DC $370,400
4 Providence, RI $245,900
5 Baltimore, MD $229,200
6 Richmond, VA $217,000
7 Philadelphia, PA $203,900

Change in Home Prices: Providence (+5.4%) is the only city with a significant year-over-year change in residential real estate prices. Four of the others have seen minimal rises, while Philadelphia (-0.5%) and New York (-1.0%) have been recording minor declines.

Q1 2016 Y/Y Single-family
Home Price Change
% Change
1 Providence, RI 5.4%
2 Baltimore, MD 2.7%
3 Richmond, VA 2.1%
4 Boston, MA 1.0%
5 Washington, DC 0.7%
6 Philadelphia, PA -0.5%
7 New York, NY -1.0%

Employment Growth: Richmond (+3.7%) has provided the greatest year-over-year improvement in employment among the seven centers. Baltimore (+2.1%) and Philadelphia (also +2.1%) have beaten the national average (+1.7%). Boston’s jobs growth (+1.2%) has been lethargic, while Providence’s has been anemic (+0.3%).

Latest Month, Y/Y Jobs Change
Fastest to Slowest (May 2016)
% Change
1 Richmond, VA 3.7%
2 Baltimore, MD 2.1%
2 Philadelphia, PA 2.1%
4 Washington, DC 1.9%
5 New York, NY 1.5%
6 Boston, MA 1.2%
7 Providence, RI 0.3%

Jobless Rate: Boston, however, does lay claim to the lowest unemployment rate (3.5%) among its geographically nearby compatriots. Washington (3.6%) is a close second, with Richmond (3.7%) not far behind either. The highest jobless rates in the north Atlantic region are to be found in Providence (5.0%) and Philadelphia (5.1%).

Latest Month Jobless Rate,
Lowest to Highest (May 2016)
% Level
1 Boston, MA 3.5%
2 Washington, DC 3.6%
3 Richmond, VA 3.7%
4 Baltimore, MD 4.3%
5 New York, NY 4.4%
6 Providence, RI 5.0%
7 Philadelphia, PA 5.1%

Overall Rating: To pick out the star among northern Atlantic cities, I’ve taken seven of their eight rankings and calculated an average. In turn, that average has been used to compile an extra ‘overall’ ranking. Population size has been ignored because it is based on a long-term historical build-up. Population change, though, is important because it’s likely to reflect the in- or out-migration of workers depending on how they see their prospects in the local jobs market.

The composite ranking from best to worst in the U.S. northern Atlanta region is: (1) Washington; (2) Richmond; (3) Boston; (4) Baltimore; (5) New York; (6) Providence; and (7) Philadelphia.

When two or more cities have the same number in a table, their ranking is a tie.

Data sources: Census Bureau, NAR, NAHB, BLS, Statistics Canada, CMHC, CREA / Chart: ConstructConnect™.

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