New York City and its suburbs accounted for most of New York State’s previously reported population decline and net domestic migration outflows during the second year of the pandemic, according to the latest county-level estimates from the Census Bureau.

Census data for the 12 months ending last July 1 indicate the city’s population declined by 123,104 residents, to a total of 8,335,897. This represented a total loss of 468,297 residents from the record April 2020 decennial census count, which reflected New York’s population at its pre-pandemic peak.

Elsewhere downstate, 2022 Vintage data from the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program point to a reversal of the population gains experienced by Long Island and lower Hudson Valley counties in the first year after the spring 2020 pandemic outbreak. During the latest 12-month period, the 12-county downstate Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District experienced a population drop of 147,238 residents, from roughly 13.52 million to about 13.38 million. This represented 82 percent of the state’s total population decline of 180,341 last year.

The second year of the pandemic also saw the end of a brief population uptick in many upstate counties, pointing to a resumption of a longer-term demographic decline. Between the April 2020 census and July 1, 2021, 22 of 50 upstate counties experienced population increases. But population declines the following year have reduced the number of upstate counties with net gains to just five, none of which has gained even half a percent over the 2020 census count, as shown below. The only downstate population gains since April 2020 were in Manhattan (+1 percent) and Orange (+0.24 percent).

The Census Bureau news release summarizing the latest estimates was headlined “Growth in the Nation’s Largest Counties Rebounds in 2022,” but with the exception of Manhattan, this was not the case in New York State.  The sub-head of the release — “Counties with large colleges and universities experience population gains once again” — also generally was not reflected in New York’s population estimates for 2021-22, or in the trend since April 2020, as depicted below.

An unabated outflow

Reflecting a long-term pattern, most of the Empire State’s population loss is due to net domestic migration — the extent to which the number of people moving out of New York exceeds the number moving in. During the year ending July 1, 2022, the Census Bureau estimates, New York’s net loss to the rest of the country came to 299,557 residents. This was slightly higher than the population outflow during the previous year, and ranked as New York’s second-largest one-year net domestic migration loss on record, exceeded only by the net loss of 314,153 out-migrants in 1973.  (The Vintage 2022 census numbers — based on domestic migration, international immigration, and the “natural increase” from births minus deaths — reduced the 2020-21 outflow estimate to 295,820, down from an original estimate of more than 352,000.)

In the first year of the pandemic, reflecting substantial anecdotal evidence, most of the Empire State’s outmigrants were from the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak — New York City — with the largest net migration traced to Manhattan. Although Census data do not indicate migrant destinations or places of origin, the surging outflow from the city in 2020-21 coincided with a significant increase in positive domestic migration inflows to Long Island and the Hudson Valley (as well as to Connecticut and New Jersey), which previously had been losing residents to other states.

The latest data show a notable change to that trend: Manhattan actually is estimated to have gained 2,900 people from other counties and states during the 12 months ending last July 1, which is the primary reason for that borough’s surprising (if small) net population increase.

During the same period, however, New York City’s other four boroughs experienced a combined net domestic migration loss of 218,939 residents, which was a slight increase over the outflow of 214,792 residents during the previous year. Elsewhere, domestic migration trends flipped from positive back to negative in many upstate and suburban counties that had gained residents in the first year of the pandemic period. Net migration from April 2020 to mid-2022 is illustrated below and detailed in the table that follows.


Natural changes

Aside from migration, the main component of annual Census Bureau population estimates is “natural change,” calculated as births minus deaths in a given year. These numbers are derived from government vital statistics reports, which assign place of birth based on maternal place of residence.

While age distributions are not reported as part of the initial annual estimates, the births-minus-deaths measure is also an indirect reflection of the rate at which different county populations are aging. As shown below, the natural increase has been a negative number (deaths exceeding births) in a growing number of New York counties since 2020. The pandemic produced a temporary increase in deaths in 2020-21, especially in New York City, but deaths in 2021-22 subsided to a level more typical of recent years.

New York’s statewide average birth rate in 2021-22 was 10.73 births per 1,000 residents, slightly below the U.S. average of 11.11 births per 1,000. Within the state, however, birth rates ranged from 17.14 in Rockland (home to a large ultra-orthodox Jewish population) to a low of 4.3 in sparsely populated Hamilton County (in the heart of the Adirondack Park). The median birth rate for all New York counties was under 10 per 1,000.

Hamilton County also had the state’s highest death rate per 1,000 — 14 per 1,000 — an indicator of average age. The death rate was lowest in Tompkins County — which also has one of the state’s lowest birth rates, reflecting the large concentration of college-age singles living in and around Ithaca. Other counties combining high birth rates with low death rates were Orange (including the growing ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Kiryas Joel) and Jefferson County (including the Fort Drum Army base is located.)

The statewide death rate of 8.86 per 1,000 was below the national death rate — but, again, there was considerable variation on a county level, with most rural areas recording more deaths than births, adding to low but persistent out-migration.

The 2021-22 breakdown of major components of population change and the total estimated populations for all counties are shown below.


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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