Monday, January 6, 2020

Downstate Adds Population, Upstate Loses, 2010-2018

The 2018 population estimates by U.S. Census are out, which look at changes since 2010. The Census reports that New York’s population in these years is estimated to have grown by around 142,000 people. However, this growth has not been uniform throughout state.

The ten counties of Downstate New York (the three lower Hudson Valley counties of Orange, Rockland and Westchester; the two Long Island counties of Suffolk and Nassau; and the five New York City counties of Richmond, Bronx, New York, Kings and Queens) saw a collective gain of over 250,000 people. All Downstate counties posted gains, with the exception of Suffolk on outer Long Island, which was down by over 13,000 people.

From 2010 to 2018, the Bronx grew by over 44,000 people, Brooklyn (Kings County) by nearly 73,000, Manhattan (New York County) by 40,000 and Queens grew by over 44,000. Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties added nearly 40,000 new residents.

Across Upstate the story was different. The 53 counties of Upstate New York saw a collective loss of over 108,000 people. Just 7 of the 53 Upstate counties saw gains in population from 2010 to 2018. The three Capital District counties of Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer saw a total gain over 3,600 people, with the lion’s share going to Albany County. Erie County (Buffalo) added almost 600 people, Ontario County, south of Rochester, added 1,700, and Tompkins (Ithaca) added 1,000. Saratoga County was in a league all of its own in Upstate New York in the last decade, adding more than 10,000 new residents.

Eleven of the 12 counties that include parts of the Adirondacks experienced population losses, totaling nearly 23,000, from 2010 to 2018. These 12 counties are home to just over 1 million people. The losses were largely in counties with large areas outside the Adirondack Park, such as Oneida County (-5,186), St. Lawrence (-3,764), Herkimer (-2,628), and Washington (-2,146). Saratoga County was the one county that posted gains with just over 10,000 new residents.

The trends of population gains in urban/metropolitan areas and population losses in rural areas in New York mirrors population trends across the United States. In 2010, just 6.4% of the U.S. population lived in Rural America, spread across more than 61% of the land area of the lower 48 states. The 2010 Census showed that half of all rural counties experienced population losses, while most urban/metropolitan counties gained population.

These trends have intensified in the last decade, in the wake of the Great Recession, where new employment and population have overwhelmingly shifted to urban/metropolitan areas. There are fewer jobs today in Rural America that there were in 2007, whereas urban/metropolitan areas have added over 10 million new jobs to their 2007 levels.

Recent population loss in Upstate New York followed decades of stagnation. Over the last 28 years, from 1990 to 2018, New York State saw an overall population gain of just over 1.5 million people. The 10 Downstate counties saw a gain of 1,517,839, led by Queens County at 321,000, Kings County (Brooklyn) at 279,000 and the Bronx at 225,000. The 53 counties of Upstate saw a net gain of 3,586.

From 1990 to 2018, the U.S. population grew by 77 million people through births or immigration from abroad. The Downstate New York population grew by just over 1.5 million people in nearly three decades, from 11.4 million to 12.9 million. The 53 Upstate counties grew by a total of around 3,600 people, growing from 6,625,181 in 1990 to 6,628,767 in 2018. The country grew by 77 million people, but Upstate New York grew by 3,600. Of the 77 million people born in the U.S., or who immigrated here from abroad, in the last 28 years, Upstate New York netted just .0005% of them who chose to make their home here.

From 1990 to 2018, the 12 Adirondack Park counties saw a net gain of 20,710. The areas that saw changes mirrored national trends. Oneida County lost over 21,000 and Clinton County saw a drop of over 5,400. Both were likely heavily influenced by closures or significant changes of large military bases. Herkimer and St. Lawrence counties saw long-term losses of over 4,000 each, driven possibly by changes in agricultural production and rural manufacturing. Over that 28-year period, Saratoga picked up almost 48,000 new residents, while Warren, Washington and Franklin also posted significant gains. Saratoga County saw the greatest growth in Upstate.

Times further back saw the script flipped between Upstate and Downstate New York. From 1970 to 1990, the ten Downstate counties experienced a loss of over 400,000 people, with the Bronx (-250,000) and Brooklyn (-300,000) leading the way. In 1990, the Downstate population was 11.4 million and the Upstate population was over 6.6 million. During the 1970s and 1980s, while Downstate was losing population, the Upstate population climbed by over 150,000 people.

It’s highly likely that the trends since the Great Recession, starting after 2008, of mild population losses throughout much of Upstate and significant population gains in Downstate New York will persist. These trends in New York mirror larger national trends of shrinking rural populations and growing urban/metropolitan areas.

As mentioned earlier in this article, about half of all counties in Rural America are experiencing population declines. That means that there are enormous areas in the U.S. where rural communities are planning and strategizing about how to reverse these trends locally and recruit new residents. In the Adirondacks, these efforts are waged against a backdrop of long-term population stagnation and short-term population losses in Upstate New York.

Too much time and energy has been wasted in the Adirondacks in campaigns to weaken environmental protections as some kind of key for economic development and heightened community prosperity. This flawed theory has been embraced by the Cuomo Administration and state agencies. The dynamics playing out in large parts of the Adirondack Park are the same dynamics that are playing out in large parts of Upstate New York and are the same dynamics playing out across large parts of Rural America.

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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.

16 Responses

  1. JohnL says:

    Oh boy!!. More statewide decisions being made by downstaters. Can’t wait for their wisdom.

  2. Pablo says:

    This is just an opinion piece, not a news article.

  3. Jim Racquet says:

    Yeah it’s the “Great Recession”, Not that Baby Boomers are trying to save what money they have left at Retirement age from “ANDY’S Spending” and leaving this wasteland of a state!

  4. Charlie S says:

    Cycles! They do exist! You watch! As the neocons speed up the cooking of the Earth due to their polluting, anti-environmental agenda, as the mercury rises, all of those people who moved, who just shudder at the thought of, heaven forbid, 40 degrees on the thermometer….when those sticky, humid, hellish hot-spots Florida, Arizona, Georgia, etc. start heating up some more due the Earth cooking…those people will hurry back to these cooler climes. By then of course we’ll have palm trees in New York City and it won’t matter anymore and most of us will be gone into sleep that braves a thousand years, and who really cares about those generations yet to be anyway?

  5. Michael White says:

    More high earning taxpayers are leaving NY. That’s part of what’s driving the State’s budget problems.

    • JohnL says:

      More Democrats being elected statewide. That’s what’s driving the high earning taxpayers leaving NY.

      • Balian the Cat says:

        If democrats are being elected “statewide” who is it that is voting for them? I thought the narrative was that all the NYC ethnic types on welfare put them in office? In the part of the state I live in, the only “earners” are democrats and the public offices are full of good ‘ol boys frettin about their AR15’s. The only people who ever talk about leaving are the ones tired of living next to tyvek sided trailers with ATV parks for yards and confederate flags flying tattered in the wind.

        • Boreas says:


          Another reason that is not often mention is the poor state of healthcare providers up here. Not the quality, but what limited healthcare providers we have are often hindered again by distance. Air ambulance to BTV or Albany is often a necessity. It is no wonder older people often move south where geriatric care is a priority. People everywhere are getting older. Until healthcare in the region is improved significantly, expect a steady population slide downward.

        • JohnL says:

          There is the narrative you speak of for statewide offices, but for local stuff, it’s pretty simple Ballian. Democrats are voting for them.
          BTW, you seem to have a pretty low regard for people living on the margins. Where’d that come from?

          • Balian the Cat says:

            I believe it’s born of frustration and I hope it’s not permanent. I am as guilty as anyone of feeding the problem at times. Thank you for reminding me of that. I should not pass judgement on large swaths of people because I disagree with an ideology that I presume they espouse. .

            • JohnL says:

              We’re all guilty of judging people without ‘walking a mile in their shoes’. Just means we’re human, you and I.

  6. Charlie S says:

    Michael White says: ” More high earning taxpayers are leaving NY. That’s part of what’s driving the State’s budget problems.”

    JohnL says: “More Democrats being elected statewide. That’s what’s driving the high earning taxpayers leaving NY.”

    >Those high-earning folk don’t have to pay as much in those red states JohnL…is why they’re moving. It’s all about their money! Plus they don’t have to worry about healthcare cause they can afford their own….meanwhile them poor folk in those red states get hardly anything for those lower tax rates, no good healthcare, no good nothing, notta, zip, which really isn’t doing them much good anyway as they’re staying at poverty level.
    I know a self-employed someone who always goes on and on about how he hates this liberal state due to its high taxes, because the Mexicans are taking all of our jobs away, etc.. about how he can’t wait to get the truck out. A Trump sorta guy if ya know what I mean. Well anyway…recently he went to have a toothache checked out, hadn’t seen a dentist in years. He found a dentist who informed him that he may have been eligible for a New York State dental plan due to his income level which was below the threshold where you either are eligible, or not, for healthcare. It turns out that not only did he have a root canal, he had a crown paid for by the state, plus a cleaning, at least a $3000. bill…because of those taxes he’s been paying and griping about for years. He said he paid but a few dollars for a prescription is all. You would a thought that “finally’ he sees what he’s getting for his tax dollars here in New York but nope…he’s hellbent on ‘Liberals are the root of all of our woes. There’s no hope for him. Down in them states where those high-earners are going….where those low taxes draw them because that’s more money for them, you have to practically being living on the streets before they’ll help you out, and even then…… We’re getting what we pay for up here!

  7. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Another reason that is not often mention is the poor state of healthcare providers up here.”

    You’re wrong on this Boreas. Unless you mean poor healthcare for the rich. They take care of their poor in NY State!

    • Boreas says:


      I didn’t say it very clearly. What I was getting at is there is a lack of healthcare providers, and the ones we have are poorly distributed compared with more urban or metropolitan areas. This isn’t just doctors but nursing and home care providers as well.

      Convenient, quality healthcare is always a consideration in the appeal of a locality – especially for the elderly. It is a big factor in choosing where to live.

  8. Charlie S says:

    JohnL says: “We’re all guilty of judging people without ‘walking a mile in their shoes’. Just means we’re human, you and I.”

    I knew you had it in you JohnL!

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