America’s Fastest-Shrinking City Pine Bluff Looks to Attract Arkansas Families with School Improvements

By Jacob Smith
May 6, 2024

Updated – Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Sederick Rice, a Pine Bluff native, compares his struggling hometown to a blues tune – “You’ve Got to Hurt Before You Heal.”

The city has faced significant challenges recently. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Pine Bluff, located about 40 miles southeast of Little Rock, was labeled the fastest-shrinking city in the U.S., experiencing a population decline of more than 12% over a decade. 

During that time, the local school district was taken over by the state due to its inability to deliver a quality education and manage finances as student numbers dropped. Businesses and families had already left, resulting in abandoned buildings and vacant residences reminiscent of “The Walking Dead.”

(Marianna McMurdock/The 74)

However, residents, both new and old, are beginning to sense a glimmer of hope. Major brands such as Marriott and Chick-fil-A have established presence in the city, the district has regained control over its schools, and a tax hike was approved by voters in August to revamp the dilapidated high school.

“It’s akin to undergoing surgery,” remarked Rice, who teaches biology at the local university. “We’re only at the initial stages of our recuperation.”

Rice is actively involved in this revitalization effort, overseeing the first local school board in Pine Bluff’s predominantly Black district since 2018. In September, he celebrated alongside a crowd at the Pine Bluff Convention Center when the Arkansas State Board of Education unanimously agreed to restore the district of 3,300 students to local governance.

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