The net outflow of New Yorkers to other states reached its highest point in 14 years during the 12-month period ending in mid-2020, just past the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.

As of July 1, 2020, Census Bureau estimates show:

  • 203,893 more residents moved out of New York State than moved in from other states over the previous 12 months, compared to a net domestic migration loss of 183,857 during the previous 12-month period.
  • The Empire State’s cumulative net domestic migration loss to the rest of the country since 2010 rose to 1,585,770 residents—the largest outflow of any state in absolute terms.
  • New York gained 45,753 foreign immigrants over the previous year—the lowest annual immigrant total since 2010, and the second lowest in at least 58 years.
  • Subtracting the state’s domestic out-migration from the international in-migration, the net migration loss from mid-2019 to mid-2020 came to 169,712 people—the largest single-year total since 1978.

The 2020 Census estimates also indicate that only three of New York’s 50 upstate counties gained population during the previous 10 years, as illustrated in the map below.

The latest Census data comes with an extra-large caveat: while annual Census estimates had pointed to a net decline in New York’s population since 2010, the just-released official decennial 2020 census count of New York’s population came in at 20,201,409—a startling increase of 823,147 over the 2010 census, and 864,633 more that the total 2020 state- and county-level estimates.

So, where are all those people distributed geographically? We won’t know until the substate and block-level Census data are released to researchers in August.

The higher population identified by the decennial census might be explained by the large number of additional residential addresses supplied to the Census Bureau by New York State and New York City, as suggested in this New York Times story, although at least one demographic expert has questioned that assumption.

To one extent or another, the official census count inevitably also reflects anomalies related to the pandemic—such as the mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of students from New York State college campuses before the April 1 count date.

Nonetheless, while they add up to much less than the decennial census total, the components of the 2020 census estimate—domestic migration, foreign immigration, and the natural increase (births minus deaths)—can provide valuable insights into population trends. That’s because the Census Bureau’s annual estimates of population changes are based on solid annual data from the Internal Revenue Service (reflecting changes in taxpayers’ addresses between 2019 and 2020), Medicare enrollments among those 65 and older, and local public health records.

It’s unlikely that the added population would change the dynamics reflected in the map below, which illustrates the flow of New Yorkers to other counties and states during the past decade.

Since last summer, much has been reported about both permanent and temporary moves of New York City residents, in particular, to second homes or vacation properties elsewhere in New York and in other states. Some of the most commonly cited research has been done by commercial real estate companies based on proprietary data from cell phone providers and change-of-address forms filed with the U.S. Postal Service, neither of which are reflected in Census estimates.

The pandemic’s full demographic impact on New York will take years to unfold. In the meantime, the Census numbers provide a glimpse—albeit a very blurry one—of the Empire State’s population in a time of extraordinary disruption.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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