The country's fifth largest city is in the desert, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. And though it is only half the size of the next largest city, the nation's No. 1 city in terms of population has more than twice as many people as its closet rival.

Yes, New York reigns supreme as the largest city in the United States, with a population of 8.2 million. The next largest city is Los Angeles, which has just 3.8 million residents.

Chicago is third with 2.8 million inhabitants and Houston is fourth with 2.1 million.

Phoenix, the aforementioned desert city, moved into fifth place, according to the latest count, moving ahead of Philadelphia. The head count in Phoenix in 2006 was 1.5 million. In Philadelphia, it was 1.45 million.

The switch is further evidence of a shift in the U.S. population that began decades ago.

In 1910 -- nearly a century ago -- all of the ten most populous cities were within approximately 500 miles of the Canadian border. Now, seven of the top ten and three of the top five are in states that border Mexico.

In another big change, only three of the largest cities in 1910 -- New York, Chicago and Philadelphia -- remain on the current list. At the same time, three of the current top ten -- Phoenix, San Jose and San Diego -- were not even among the top 100 largest cities 97 years ago, while three others -- Dallas, Houston and San Antonio -- had populations of less than 100,000.

The estimates also show what many of us already know, that many of the nation's fastest-growing cities are suburbs of those cities or small towns that border on them.

For example, North Las Vegas, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas, had the nation's fastest growth rate among large cities (those with populations of 100,000) between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006. North Las Vegas' population increased 11.9 percent during the period, to 197,567.

Furthermore, three of the 10 fastest-growing cities are in the Dallas metro area: McKinney (second), Grand Prairie (sixth) and Denton (ninth). In the same general vicinity, Ft. Worth just missed the list, ranking 11th.

Phoenix had the largest population increase of any city between 2005 and 2006, adding more than 43,000 residents. But Texas dominated the list of the 10 highest numerical gainers, with San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin and Dallas each making the top 10. Three other Texas cities made the list of 25 biggest numerical gainers.

New Orleans had by far the largest population loss among all cities with populations of 100,000 people or more. The Big Easy lost slightly more than half of its pre-Hurricane Katrina population. It fell from 452,170 on July 1, 2005, to 223,388 one year later, a loss of 50.6 percent.

To put that into perspective, Hialeah, Fla., which experienced the second-highest rate of loss over the period, saw its population decline by 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau threw out another tidbit recently that the real estate community might find interesting: An average of 2,356 people went into business for themselves everyday in 2005, bringing the number of businesses without a payroll to 20.4 million. In total, 860,000 people became business industry "loan wolves" in 2005.

The District of Columbia led the nation in the growth of these small businesses with a 9.6 percent increase between 2004 and 2005, followed by Nevada at 7.7 percent and Florida with a 7.6 percent growth rate. Rounding out the top five were Georgia and Utah, which had increases of 7.6 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

Among the nation's most populous counties, Los Angeles County, Calif., had 799,108 non-employer businesses as of 2005. Cook County, Ill., was second at 380,457, followed by Miami-Dade, Fla., at 296,456.

Counties with big increases in non-employer businesses included Orange County, Fla. (9.4 percent); Clark County, Nev. (9 percent); Miami-Dade (8.6 percent); Tarrant County, Texas (8.4 percent); Gwinnett, Ga. (8.4 percent); and Hillsborough, Fla., and Mecklenburg, N.C. (8.3 percent each).

The ten largest cities:

  • New York -- 8,214,426
  • Los Angeles -- 3,849,378
  • Chicago -- 2,833,321
  • Houston -- 2,144,491
  • Phoenix -- 1,512,986
  • Philadelphia -- 1,448,394
  • San Antonio -- 1,296,682
  • San Diego -- 1,256,951
  • Dallas -- 1,232,940
  • San Jose -- 929,936

    Written by Lew Sichelman