The first major population indicator that was examined in The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 was changes in total population.
Population growth or loss is a key indicator for measuring community and regional vitality. From 1970 to 2010, the overall U.S. population increased by nearly 52%, from 201.2 million to over 305.6 million people. In these years, New York State experienced a modest 6.2% increase, growing from 18.2 million to 19.3 million, a rate of growth that lagged far behind national growth.
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.
It’s important to note where population growth occurred in the U.S. between 1970 to 2010. The 1,941 counties classified as rural and non-metropolitan by the USDA, which covered 68% of the lower 48 states in the U.S., and is the geography that we used in this report as the landscape of Rural America, saw an increase of over 9.4 million people in 40 years, growing by 26%. Metropolitan areas in the U.S. grew by nearly 95 million people. In the U.S. from 1970 to 2010 for every 1 person who was born into or chose to move to a rural area, 10 other people were born into or made the choice to live in a metropolitan area in the U.S.
From 1970 to 2010, the 61 Park Towns that are 100% within the Blue Line experienced a 10.6% growth in population, increasing from 90,966 to 100,606. Note that 4,580 prison inmates at the various state and federal facilities within these communities were excluded from the total. The 10.6% population growth rate exceeded New York State’s population growth rate of 6.2%, but lagged behind the Split Towns, those 31 towns that are split by the Blue Line, which grew 35.8% (largely driven by Queensbury, Plattsburgh, and the Saratoga County towns). The Park Towns also lagged behind the 47 Rural New York towns that grew by 18.4%. The two tables below show these comparisons.
As mentioned above Rural America added over 9 million people. The 1,941 counties classified as rural and non-metropolitan by the USDA grew 26.3%. The 1,333 counties with a similar population density as the 61 Park Towns grew by 25.7%. The 15 rural counties in the Northeast U.S. with a similar population density as the 61 Park Towns grew by 11.5%, similar to the Park Town’s rate of 10.6. While other rural areas in the U.S. registered high growth rates, rural communities in the Northeast U.S. saw modest growth.
How did the Park Towns’ 10.6% population growth rate compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ population growth was higher than that of 37% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 59% of the state’s population. It’s important to note that Adirondack communities in these years grew at a higher rate than that of communities where 59% of New Yorkers lived. The Park Towns saw a higher growth than that of 36% of U.S. counties, areas with 22% of the U.S. population.
How did the Park Towns’ 10.6% population growth rate compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ population growth was higher than that of 47% of Rural America counties, areas with over 32% of the population of Rural America. Closer to home, the Park Towns population growth was higher than that of 45% of rural counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 47% of the population of the Rural Northeast. While Adirondack communities lagged behind much of the U.S. for population growth, they were squarely in the middle when compared with rural areas.
From 1970 to 2010, 1,111 counties across the lower 48 states in the U.S. experienced population changes at a rate lower than that of the 61 Park Towns’ population increase of 10.6%, some 36% of counties, while 1,979 saw population increases at a higher level. In Rural America the numbers were much different. In Rural America, 908 counties experienced population changes at a rate lower than that of the Park Towns, some 47% of all rural counties, while 53% saw population gains at a higher level. Losses occurred at a much high level in nearly half of all counties in Rural America.
Population growth or loss has been one of the most divisive data points in the debate over the future of the Adirondack Park. One of the main purposes of The Adirondack Park and Rural America report was to see if the economic and populations experiences of Adirondack communities were fundamentally different than that of other areas in the U.S., especially rural areas, during the last four decades. Adirondack communities were solidly in the middle of the pack for population growth in these decades when compared with other rural areas, even though the Rural Northeast and New York State struggled with population growth in these years.
An analysis of long-term population trends from 1970 to 2010 showed that the experiences of Adirondack communities were consistent with trends across Rural America and that Adirondack communities grew at a much higher rate than that of New York State.
The next five articles in this series will go deeper into population trends by looking at short-term changes from 2000 to 2010, analysis of population changes by comparing age cohorts, median age, and the changes in the ratio of children to adults of child-bearing age.