The 19th Largest City in the U.S.?

You have, no doubt, heard the oft repeated factoid that El Paso is the 19th biggest city in the U.S. It’s often referenced as an excuse for some civil extravagance, like a sports venue.

That’s a little disingenuous. Here are some cities that El Paso is larger than:

    Washington, D.C.
    St. Louis
    Oklahoma City

Now who would have thought that El Paso was bigger than Denver, or Miami?

It’s because city size isn’t the relevant unit measurement. That’s why government agencies (and anyone who’s looking for the truth instead of fuel for a propaganda campaign) use Metropolitan Statistical Areas. If you compare MSA’s, El Paso ranks 67th. El Paso’s MSA is smaller than the MSA’s of the following cities:

    Oxnard, California
    Greenville, North Carolina
    Bakersfield, California
    New Haven, Connecticut
    Schenectady, New York
    Birmingham, Alabama
    Buffalo, New York
    and all the other cities in that list above.

El Paso’s SMA includes Las Cruces, but not Ciudad Juarez. El Paso’s relationship with Juarez is a bit problematic. Sure, some juarenses come to El Paso. They may shop in El Paso, and work in El Paso. But most (97%?) juarenses are legally prohibited from visiting El Paso. They don’t have a mica, or laser visa, and the United States spends billions of dollars a year to keep undocumented immigrants out. The next time somebody uses Juarez’ population as a rationale for more local debt, consider that.

Including Juarez would boost the size of our MSA, but including Juarez would have devastating effects on other relevant statistical measurements, like income and educational achievement. Do we really want to go there?

So the next time somebody tells you that El Paso is the 19th biggest city in the U.S., and we deserve a (monorail, subway system, soccer team, or whatever they’re selling), laugh in their face. And keep your hand on your wallet.


  1. The real estate speculators seem to think that bullshit is the best fertilizer. I don’t share your taste for it.
    Happy birthday. Hope it went well.

  2. I don’t have to eat it and neither do you. But maybe you’ll be able to enjoy what grows.

    I did have a nice birthday, thanks.

  3. You didn’t hear? Obama is going to naturalize Juarez. That should move us up a notch.

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