ALBANY — New population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau show most counties in upstate New York have lost population since 2010, a trend that is likely to result in the region’s clout declining in both Congress and at the statehouse.
A total of 46 New York counties lost population between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2018 and only 16 saw increases in their population, according to the new data.
Congressional and state legislative district lines will be redrawn after the 2020 Census, with the population numbers garnered in that count influencing the process. New York lost two House seats following the 2010 Census and given the current trajectory there are concerns it could lose one or two more following the next national count.
The statistics showed that New York’s overall population gained 164,085 residents since the 2010 Census, an increase of 0.8 percent, well below the national population growth of 6 percent in that same period, and trailing the 1.4 percent growth rate for the Northeast region as a whole.
The bureau estimated New York’s total population as of July 1 at 19,542,209 residents.
An analysis of the data by Cornell University demographic researcher Jan Vink found that Niagara County came in fourth in the state of the counties with the highest numeric population drops over the eight-year period. Its population dwindled by 6,052 residents, trailing only Suffolk (dropping 12,054), Broome (down 9,016) and Chautauqua (a decrease of 6,968).
Of New York’s 10 economic regions, the North Country, experienced the highest percentage of population loss due to net migration — a drop of 6 percent as a result of more people moving out than moving in. The Southern Tier and Central New York saw a net migration loss of more than 3 percent.
The county that lost the most population on a percentage basis was Hamilton, located in the Adirondacks, which shed 8.4 percent of its residents since the last census. Delaware County and Chenango County ranked second and third in that category, losing 7.2 percent and 5.9 percent respectively.
Essex County, in the North Country, was not far behind, experiencing a 5.3 percent loss in the eight years, with 2,070 fewer people in the latest tally. The nearby counties of Clinton and Franklin had losses of 1.7 percent (a drop of 1,433 people) and 2.5 percent (a decline of 1,306 residents) respectively.
Schoharie County, which experienced devastating damage from flooding in 2011, saw its population drop 5 percent since the last census, with a decline of 1652 residents. Otsego County’s population declined by 2,510 residents, or a loss of 4 percent.
The weak population numbers for upstate continues a pattern that has played out for at least a decade, said E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank.
“The rural areas are the weakest,” McMahon said. “The upstate decline is continuing. It’s not much different from the picture we have been seeing and the same components are causing it: the combination of domestic migration losses in every county but two (Saratoga and Ontario), low foreign immigration and more births than deaths in a lot of rural counties. You put that all together and you have a population decline.”
Vink’s analysis of data for New York’s 10 economic regions found that only the Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier and Western New York experienced a decrease in estimated population in all years since the last census. Central New York and the Finger Lakes only had a single year of a small increase, he reported.
Only one New York region — the Mid-Hudson — saw population increases in each year since the last count, while the Capital Region saw very small decreases in two of those years, Vink said after reviewing the data.
The census data found that Saratoga is the fastest growing county in New York, posting a 4.8 percent population gain. On a numeric basis, four of the top five counties for growth were all in New York City — Brooklyn (officially known as Kings County); Queens, the Bronx and New York County (Mahattan), Vink found.
Michael Kracker, director of the pro-business advocacy group Unshackle Upstate, said the weak upstate population numbers suggest that New York needs to fashion policies that encourage companies to move to the region.
“But until something substantive changes, i don’t see those trend lines changing,” said Kracker, warning that proposed legislation to require overtime pay for farm workers and allow them to join unions threatens to hurt agricultural businesses. A series of recent increases in New York’s minimum wage has already weakened the business climate, he said.
Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said the fresh data could make it all the more challenging for upstate to attract new jobs. “Having less workforce impacts where employers will go. Employers see these numbers, even current ones, and start thinking: ‘We’re losing people. Should I move my operations?'”
Ortt also said the population stagnation upstate is grim news at a time when the national population is gaining. “Representation follows the population,” he said.
Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said efforts need to be made to bring together business leaders, local government officials and non-profit leaders to craft solutions that zero in on the challenges facing upstate.
“These numbers are further evidence of a growing out-migration problem,” Seward said. “We must take immediate steps to make New York more affordable and encourage economic growth – particularly upstate.”
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