Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2017 Census Estimates Show Population Losses Upstate

Population-2010-2017-NYSThe US Census 2017 population estimates are out and 11 of the 12 Adirondack counties lost population. These estimates are based on samples and are not the comprehensive decennial censuses based on extensive surveys and counts. The next one is 2020. Nevertheless, the estimates are useful and in 2017 they show that 11 Adirondack counties are estimated to have lost a total of 16,263 people. These 11 counties started 2010 with a combined population of around 800,000 and dropped 16,000 to 784,000.

When we add Saratoga County to the mix of Adirondack counties, the results change somewhat. Saratoga was the only one of the 12 Adirondack counties projected to have grown, jumping by over 9,000, from 220,000 to 229,000 in those years. When we look at the total population of the 12 Adirondack counties, we see a net drop of over 6,000, from 1.02 million to 1.014 million.

For the Adirondack Park, the county level population data doesn’t tell us much because only Essex and Hamilton are completely within the Blue Line. Essex County is projected to have lost about 1,400 residents (-3.5%), while Hamilton County dropped by 368 residents (-7.3%). The 2017 projections provide county level data and don’t provide us with accurate town-level counts. The Adirondack population is somewhere around 130,000 residents who live within the Blue Line, a fraction of the 1.014 million who live in the 12 Adirondack counties. The Park is surrounded by counties that have small cities, like Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, Queensbury, Plattsburgh, Malone, Potsdam, Canton, Lowville, Utica, Rome, Herkimer, Johnstown, and Gloversville, all of which dwarf the interior Adirondack Park population.

So, while many will jump out of their chairs about the drop of near 1,800 people in Essex and Hamilton counties and the drop of 16,000 across 11 Adirondack Park counties (not counting Saratoga County), some perspective is needed.

Lets start with some state perspective. Across New York’s 62 counties, 45 are estimated to have lost population from 2010 to 2017. If we group the five New York City counties (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens and Richmond) with the two Long Island counties (Nassau, Suffolk) along with the three metro-New York counties of Westchester, Orange and Rockland, into a geography called “Downstate” we see that 9 of 10 of these counties gained population and saw a total increase of around 509,000 people. Only Suffolk County in eastern Long Island lost population, dropping 1,700 people, a tiny rate of 0.1%. These 10 counties have a total population of 13.2 million people.

Upstate has a population of around 6.7 million people. Of the 52 counties of Upstate New York, which includes the 12 Adirondack counties, 44 lost population; collectively dropping about 65,000 people. The eight Upstate counties that saw population growth were Saratoga, which grew at 4.4%, Erie at 0.7%, Ontario 1.6%, Tompkins 3%, Monroe 0.3%, and all the three Capital District counties of Albany at 1.8%, Rensselaer 0.2%, and Schenectady 0.4%. Hamilton County led the state on the downside with -7.3%, followed by Delaware with -6%, Chenango -5%, Tioga -4.7%, Orleans -4.3%, Alleghany -4.2%, and Chautauqua with -4.2%.

Overall, New York State is estimated to be growing, netting over 440,000 people 2010-2017. The challenge for the state is that growth is happening Downstate, while Upstate continues its slow decline. There are two main factors that drive the slow, inexorable population loss across Upstate and the Adirondacks. First, we export college-age kids, who after graduating move in high numbers to metropolitan areas and do come not back to their Upstate communities. Second, old people die. The population of Upstate New York, and much of Rural America, boomed after World War II with the growth of the baby-boom generation, who in 2018, despite their best efforts, are dying off.

The baby-boom population is over represented across the Adirondacks and Upstate. At its peak, this generation was nearly 79 million across the U.S., but dropped five million by 2015 to 74 million. The baby-boomers are expected to dwindle to 16 million by the late 2030s/early 2040s. Baby-boomers in New York top 2.7 million, with about 38,000 or so in the Adirondack Park, close to 30% of our total population. This high number is partly driven by the fact that the Adirondacks recruits retirees, while other areas in New York export them. While Downstate is likely to keep growing, pushed by immigration of young college graduates and immigrants from abroad, Upstate and Adirondack populations will likely see further population contraction of 5-10% by 2030. It’s likely that after 2030, Upstate and Adirondack populations could level off at a point near where they were in 1970, though the population will be an older one, unless there’s a new wave for people who discover the joys and wonders of life in Upstate New York and the Adirondacks. Climate change refugees from the south and southwest, perhaps?

It’s important to note that land use in 33 of the 44 Upstate New York counties that lost population over the past seven years was not regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency. Yet, despite being free of the APA, these 33 Upstate counties still managed to lose population, many at greater levels than Adirondack counties.

Lets add some national perspective. The 2017 Census estimates provide data on 3,107 U.S. counties. Of these, 1,441 gained population, while 1,666 lost population. Clearly, Adirondack counties are not alone in experiencing trends of population loss, they join with 53% of the country. More than 160 counties across the U.S. experienced even greater estimated population losses than Hamilton County’s -7.3% rate.

Population-2010-2017-USThe U.S. population grew by over 100 million people from 1970 to 2010, but only 4 million of these folks ended up in Rural America. Across the U.S. today, just 2% of the population occupies 42% of the continental American landscape, which includes the Adirondacks. Just 7% of the U.S. population occupies 54% of the U.S. Many other studies have shown that jobs and wealth have also shifted from Rural America to Metropolitan America along with population. The Adirondack Park faces formidable national and international trends where powerful forces are pushing massive urbanization. Want to visit a city of 100 million people? It won’t be long.

When it comes to building a sustained and viable Adirondack Park population, Adirondack communities face a lot of questions. What’s the optimum population? What are the issues for communities that are growing versus those that are shrinking? What has driven population loss? What has driven population gain? What are the most successful tactics for recruiting new residents? It seems that now is the time for Adirondack Park communities to develop recruitment strategies that deal with an array of pressing issues from employment to housing to health care to education to social amenities.

One reality is that in 2018 there is a limited population that truly wants to live in a place like the Adirondack Park. Seriously, five months of winter, two months of mud, four months of bugs, two months of summer, two months of fall, driving an hour to see friends or do just about anything, freezing August days, low population densities, conservative politics – this place is not everybody’s cup of tea. But for those who grew up here and want to make a life here, those who visited and always dreamed of moving here, and for that unique group of intrepid souls who want to move and make a life here, it seems to me that the Adirondacks needs some kind of organized forum that can help match people to jobs, careers, and communities, and provide a pathway of sorts to help people create viable lives in the Adirondacks.

The only way, save for some kind of 1970s back-to-the-land movement, for the Adirondacks to stem the slow population decline that is bedeviling Upstate New York and Rural America, is to develop a serious recruitment program.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise has been running a series on what it’s calling the “Labor Gap,” which reports on the relatively new phenomenon where local employers are having a hard time finding employees. They have jobs, but no workers. These gaps have been plugged in various ways across the Adirondack Park, such as by higher numbers of foreign labor, or have led to painful decisions by local manufacturers to automate instead of hiring local workers, or have led others to rely on employees who telecommute to Adirondack jobs but live far outside the Adirondacks, among other things.

The 2010-2017 US Census estimates confirm the impacts of national population and urbanization trends on the Adirondacks. These trends will be tough for Adirondack communities to buck. Like most of Upstate New York and most of Rural America, we’re facing slow, steady population decline. The good news is that in 2018, it seems to me, that there is a leadership pool across the Adirondacks that could be mobilized to tackle the population challenge in a serious data-driven way rather than simply pointing fingers of blame.

Maps of New York and USA population.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

26 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I would guess that the growth in Saratoga country is largely based on one company – Global Foundries in Malta that came in and added what – 3000 jobs over that period of time? Saratoga is a nice place to live if you are working there.

  2. MOFYC says:

    Must be all those unicorns that Dems flew in to vote for Hillary returning to their homes in the Kenyan city of Honolulu.

  3. Maureen Wrightsman says:

    My Grandmother lived on a farm on Standish Rd. toward Clayburg. The farmhouse was left to be destroyed by weather. I have been interested in Purchasing the property, but I have been unable to find out who owns the property now.

  4. Danielle says:

    You should be able to access Census data at the town level by filtering by the county subdivision option.

  5. John Sheehan says:

    Many of the NY counties experiencing population growth are getting those new residents via immigration. Albany High School students, for example, speak 27 different languages at home. The diversity makes the city a much more vibrant and interesting place to live. I was at Frozen Ropes indoor baseball practice facility Tuesday night for batting practice. At 8 p.m. there were two dozen guys there in their 20s and 30s from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Caribbean islands. They were practicing Cricket for a league in the Capital District. The owner was sure glad they were in town. My teammates and I got pointers on a sport we had only seen on TV. Back when mining, logging crews and railroads were the main employers around the Adirondacks, immigration brought thousands of new residents to formerly struggling communities. Today, foreign students are a big part of the summer seasonal workforce. There are lots of people overseas looking for a better, safer place to live and raise a family. Many of them can run a business that a small town needs, or provide the expertise that a local school district or health care network needs. We should be inviting them to live here and finding ways to make it easier.

    • AG says:

      The white population of the US is pretty stagnant… The same with the African American population. Most of the growth in the US is through immigration – or Latino birth rates… But as noted in the article – the problem with the northern areas of the country is the long winters. Alaska gives away money to it’s citizens – but there is no mass rush for people to live in Alaska. Most of the immigrants to the country now are from warmer climates.

    • CommunityGuy says:

      Excellent points, John. Want growth and energy? Encourage and welcome immigrants! Want businesses started? Welcome immigrants. Want your downtowns renovated? Welcome immigrants. Want your kids to grow up being aware of the world? Welcome immigrants.

      The next point is that we once had great transportation infrastructure – railroads. Another, or bigger, highway will do nothing, just look at the Southern Tier. Restore the old rail line from Montreal through the Adirondacks. The region will bloom! (Pulling up the line from Saranac though Lake Placid is stupid! And don’t tell me the trail will bring $1,000,000/ yr. Also stupid!)

      • Boreas says:

        What would be the point of duplicate rail lines to Montreal running 30 miles apart from each other??

  6. Paul says:

    Relatively bad weather and high taxes are always going to be a tough backdrop for economic growth. NYC has the city so that makes it more bearable.

  7. Wayno17 says:

    I think Mr. Bauer does a good job of making his prime point, that the APA is NOT responsible for population decrease in the Adirondacks.

    If you look at the type of jobs that have been lost in the area over the years it is primarily low tech manufacturing that has moved offshore and extraction industry (lumber, mining) that has either shutdown or replaced workers with technology.

    IMO a fundamental force working against population growth in the ADKs is lack of internet (and cell phone) access. These have gone from 20th century novelties to 21st century necessities and will hold back growth until they are dramatically improved. Particularly among the young who may otherwise have the skills, abilities, opportunity and desire to work from home inside the Blueline.

    • AG says:

      But as noted in the article (and the census shows) it’s not just the ADK’s… It’s all of rural America (with the exception of places with oil and gas). Matter of fact it’s a global phenomenon. Last decade became the first time in history that more people lived in urban areas than rural on the planet. The trend is only accelerating – all over the world.

      • Boreas says:

        Commercial megafarming is making it very difficult for family farmers around the world to stay afloat. Why continue to live in a rural setting if there is no means of income?

  8. Dave Mason says:

    Solutions to internet access in the Park are well along. Cell phone service is behind but also continuing to progress. While both are absolutely necessary, they make our region just like anywhere else, they don’t make it different.

    The unique features of our region are found in its landscape and its people. That’s what we have to work with.

    During the ADK Futures workshops, the idea of a population recruiting program was discussed (among many other things). Immigrants looked a like a reasonable idea then, but now the political climate seems fully against it. Seeing retired people as a potential pool residents was another idea and there has been a regional summit meeting about it. We’ll see where it goes.

    There hasn’t been any broadly organized effort to attract working age parents. Maybe a shrinking pool of foreign workers catalyze such and effort, but it is just as likely to create a severe labor shortage for farming and hospitality labor, hobbling those business. We’ll know which impact is real after another year or so.

    I do see small businesses like the new farmers, brewers, distilleries, and internet based jobs attracting working age people in some areas. Watch Keeseville population numbers after the next census for clues about how successful farming is. Hamilton County population remains very small and declining as it has been for some time now.

    I agree with Peter that leadership in the Park appears to be changing. Maybe there is a passing of the torch going on? Certainly the Park has much more to gain from cooperation than from snapping at each other. I hope this is the case.

    Sustaining our beloved small towns and villages is going to require ongoing intentional cooperation from all sides, all levels, including seasonal people and residents working together to have a shot at success in the future.

    • Boreas says:

      I have lived in the area for 20 years and, as a homeowner, have always had trouble finding good, reliable trade-folk such as carpenters, painters, plumbers, etc.. There are many that advertise, but it takes a great deal of searching to find someone who does that particular trade full-time, or is just someone who feels they can do anything, but can’t. With more solid trade-folk in the region, there may be less hemorrhaging of talent as trades are often handed down to the next generation. The ‘jack-of-all-trades’ phenomenon doesn’t make for solid family trades to pass down, so the kids bolt.

  9. Warren Gaggin says:

    The main resource of upstate NY is attractive geography. Vermont capitalized on theirs and built a thriving tourism economy. Upstate NY needs to be cleaned up. No one is attracted to visiting unkempt communities suffering from neglected building and property codes.
    The criticisms of visitors are mainly “you have beautiful geography, but it’s dirty” in northern NY.

    • AG says:

      While I agree amount cleanliness – your comment is off base. Vermont is also – like parts of upstate NY – estimated to have lost population since 2010. Colder regions are not attracting as many residents… Canada is a different scenario as there are no warmer climates for Canadian citizens to move to within their own country. But even then – a lot of the growth is from international migration. And their growth is in the urban areas…

  10. Hope says:

    We have a terrific lifestyle, here in the North Country, if you enjoy the outdoors all four seasons. There are jobs here as well but they are not the high tech, high paying jobs of the major metro areas but there are some pretty decent paying jobs in the trades, medical and hospitality industry. There is also some pretty reasonable real estate outside of Lake Placid as well. The social scene, as compared to urban areas, is a little more rustic around here. Lots of fleece, flannel and hikers vs cashmere coats, silk and stilettos so if your fashion conscious you probably will not find a job here in that industry. One should probably be a little more self motivated to integrate themselves into the communities by participating in the activities that are promoted in them. To folks that say there is nothing to do here I say your not looking hard enough.

  11. […] not an option for most jobseekers here, especially younger people, which is why Hamilton County is losing population faster than any other in the state. (Overall, 44 of the 52 Upstate counties posted losses between 2010 […]

  12. Edra Gill says:

    There is something I find really disturbing that the people of the Adirondacks are disturbingly racists. To think I was considering visiting the lakes there have undoubtedly left me with the feeling of harrassment and life threatening. GOD made this Earth and the fullness thereof to enjoy. We as Blacks were good enough to help make this country but not enjoy it. So sad and ungodly.

    • Boreas says:


      I am not sure what prompted your post to this article. However, in response, yes there is racism in the Adirondacks. There is racism in NYC. There is racism in LA. If you look hard enough you will find racism virtually anywhere in the country – rural, suburban, or urban. But if you do your own research, I believe you will find the Adirondacks do not stick out as a hotbed of racial harassment and violence.

  13. Paul Ruzenski says:

    Thank you Peter Bauer for your informative article.

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