Sunday, June 9, 2019

40 Years of Employment Trends in the Adirondacks

The fourth major economic indicator that was examined in The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 was changes in the employment rate. In 2010, the employment rate of the population 16 years and older in New York State stood at 57.7% and in the U.S. it was 57.6%.

The U.S. Census data used does not separate full-time and part-time jobs, nor does it provide information on the quality of these jobs, benefits or health insurance, among other things. The data is for people in a given geography 16 years and older who are employed at the time of the decennial census.

In this report we aggregated the data of the 61 Adirondack Park Towns that are 100% within the Blue Line in order to compare Adirondack communities with other areas in the U.S. The purpose was to see if Adirondack communities stood out in any way from other places by studying trends of leading economic and population indicators from 1970 to 2010. In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had just over 100,000 residents, 77.4% of the Park’s estimated population of 130,000.

An analysis of employment rate trends was useful for evaluating differences between regions, especially when analyzed with a range of other economic indicators, such as median household income, per capita income and poverty rates. The two tables below show the change in employment rates across New York, the U.S., and Rural America over a 40-year time frame. An overview of the report is provided here. An explanation of the methods used is provided here.

Employment as a percent of the total population 16 years and older is an important indicator for assessing the economic vitality of a region because it shows the number of residents who are actively employed and working. From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns and Split Towns experienced the greatest improvements in their employment rates as compared with all other regions. The Park Towns saw an increase of 12.0%, growing from 47.8 in 1970 to 53.6% in 2010, and the Split Towns (those around the Park’s boundary that are split by the Blue Line) grew by 16.1%, compared with the growth in New York State of 5.3% and the U.S. increase of 6.1%.

How did the Park Towns’ 12% growth in its employment rate from 1970 to 2010 compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its employment rate was higher than that of 71% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 87% of the state’s population. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 65% of U.S. counties, areas with 75% of the U.S. population.

How did the Park Towns’ 12% growth in its employment rate from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its employment rate was higher than that of 64% of Rural America counties, areas with over 73% of the population of Rural America. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher growth in its employment rate than that of 84% of rural counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 89% of the population of the Rural Northeast.

When studying employment rates it’s important to note that something was happening in northern New York in 1970 – and it was not good. In 1970, at the point in time before the creation of the regional land use regulations of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and a period of significant land acquisition, the Park Towns’ employment rate was 47.8% and Split Towns’ rate was 47.7%, which lagged far behind the New York State rate of 54.8% and the U.S. rate of 54.3%. The 1970 employment rates for the Park Towns and Split Towns also lagged behind other rural areas in 1970, which ranged from 49.2% to 52.7%. The 47 rural New York towns with a similar population density as the 61 Park Towns, which have a number of towns in the southern tier and central New York, also had a higher employment rate in 1970 of 52.1%. (See the two tables above and below.) For some reason, Adirondack communities in 1970 appeared to be out of step and lagging behind New York State, the U.S., and Rural America.

In 2010, the Park Towns’ employment rate of people 16 years or older stood at 53.6%. The two tables show that between 1970 and 2010 the Park Towns experienced employment growth that went from a rate that lagged far behind other rural areas to a position equal to most. In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had a higher employment rate than that of 53% of the counties in Rural America, home to 57% of the Rural America population. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher employment rate than that of 39% of the rural counties in the Northeast U.S., home to 36% of the rural population in the northeast.

The healthy growth in the overall employment rate of people 16 years and older helped the Park Towns make up a lot of ground when compared with other areas, coming from the back of the pack in 1970 to the middle of the pack by 2010. Despite being in the middle of the pack among rural areas, the Park Towns still lagged behind New York State and the U.S. In 2010, the Park Towns’ employment rate was higher than that of 26% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York, areas with 18% of the state’s population. It was higher than that of 45% of U.S. counties, home to 23% of the U.S. population, some 71.6 million people.

One of the main purposes of The Adirondack Park and Rural America report was to see if the economic experience of Adirondack communities was fundamentally different than that of other areas in the U.S., especially rural areas, during the last four decades.

An analysis of long-term employment rate trends from 1970 to 2010 showed that the experiences of Adirondack communities did not stand out in any way during these years, despite the growth of environmental protections for the region. 1970 was a time of a seemingly depressed economy in northern New York when the Park Towns and Split Towns severely lagged behind other communities in New York and the U.S. Over the last 40 years Adirondack communities experienced a growth in their overall employment rate that moved the region from far behind other rural areas to the middle of the pack.

The next article in this series looks at long-term self employment trends.

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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.

6 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I would guess that one big factor on these employment stats from 1970 to 2010 was the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The formation of ORDA that turned Whiteface Mt. into the largest tourist draw in the park. This also was part of the conversion of the Olympic Village into a Federal prison along with the conversion of the old TB hospital in Ray Brook to a state prison. These three entities are probably the largest employers in the park? Also I think that the Troop B headquarters was moved from Malone to Ray Brook in 1980 for the Olympics as well. Again another major factor for why you would you might see the area faring slightly better than other “rural” areas. That facility creates a large number of good paying jobs. All this happened between 1970 and 2010. Maybe it’s the land protection but these things seem to be ones that have had major impacts on park employment over this period.

  2. Marc Wigle says:

    As a long-time visitor to the Adirondacks, and now a property owner, I can tell you that one factor in employment rates is the lack of more focus on tourism in some places. There have been many times that I’ve wondered why some people are in the hotel, store or restaurant business when they seem to treat tourists as an annoyance. I know that it’s not a large portion of people but there are certainly a lot that seem that they’d rather not have to deal with tourists. It’s time that some towns realize that tourism is the industry that they need to focus on. Hoping that mines, etc will come back may be a pipe-dream. People come to the Adirondacks because of its beauty and amenities.

    • Boreas says:


      What you describe seems to be a “north-country” (not limited to the Park) attitude by some people and businesses. My friends and I describe it as “the customer is always wrong”… I think it stems from traditional, strong independent values – at least that is what I would like to believe.

      • Marc Wigle says:

        Two stores come to mind, neither of which I will identify. The first was a small IGA-type store. I’ve been shopping at the store every year that we camp in that area. I took my then-girlfriend to the store to shop. While we were in line to pay, the cashier was speaking to the only other person in the line and bemoaning the fact that a Canadian wanted to pay with Canadian money. We’re Canadian. Being in a small town she probably knew everyone who came through their doors and should have assumed that we were tourists.

        Another store I frequent a lot over the years. I collect American coins in a jar and then bring them with me when we go camping. I brought my jar into the store and asked the young cashier if I could cash in my coins. She brought me over to another part of the counter so that we could count the change without blocking any customers who came in. Within seconds the owner came to the counter and started to berate the cashier right in front of me about taking in change. We both looked at each other stunned. Now I shop there only when we have to and have driven to another town where we are appreciated.

        I realize that not everyone treats their customers like this but, in that area, you HAVE to treat the customers better. I can camp elsewhere but I still go there even though sometimes I wonder about how the State treats their camping customers at times.

  3. Todd Eastman says:

    The long-term impacts of tourism jobs on communities are not always positive.

    The associated low-wages and the cultural divide between the locals and the visitors can make for a simmering resentment that permeates the relationships.

    This is not limited to the Adirondacks. Adjusting wages and treating workers like real professionals would help. This is an example of the failure of the “service economy.”

    In Europe these types of local residents get sufficient training, good wages, and usually have government based social services.

    We can do better…

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