Tuesday, August 17, 2021

2020 US Census: Saratoga, Hamilton, And Warren Counties All Post Population Gains

The US Census released its first cut at the 2020 decennial census last week. This data is limited, delivered for the purpose of redistricting for statewide and federal elected representatives. Much more detailed data will be released to the public at the end of September with population data at the town and county level. In 2022, we’ll get more data on age and race as well as economic data.

The big news is that New York State gained population at a rate of 4.2% from 2010 to 2020, topping 20 million residents for the first time in the state’s history. In 2020, New York State residents totaled 20,201,249, up from 19,378,102 in 2010, a gain of 823,147 new residents.

The limited US Census data released so far tells us a few things that are important for the Adirondack Park and New York. For instance, of New York’s 62 counties, US Census data provided tells us that 23 counties saw modest population gains, while 39 counties saw losses. The 10 Downstate counties in the lower Hudson Valley (Orange, Rockland, Westchester), New York City (New York, Richmond, Bronx, Queens, Kings), and the Long Island (Nassau, Suffolk) all gained, reaping 828,352 new residents between them. The five counties in New York City gained 628,682 new residents.

While New York State gained 823,147 people, the 10 downstate counties gained some 828,352 new residents, exceeding the state’s overall growth. That means that in the 52 counties spread through Upstate New York, there was a total net loss of over 5,000 residents from 2010 to 2020. Throughout Upstate, 13 counties saw population gains and 39 experienced losses. As a region, Upstate New York was basically flat with regards to population growth, whereas New York City and Downstate saw significant gains.

In the Adirondacks, as mentioned above, we do not yet have town data, just county data, which doesn’t tell us a lot. Saratoga County, Hamilton, and Warren County all gained, though Warren was basically flat. Nine other Adirondack Park counties lost population. The 12 Adirondack Park counties together had 1,013,109 residents in 2020, down from 1,020,422 in 2010, a loss of 7,313 or -0.07%. It’s important to note that of the 1 million residents who live in the 12 Adirondack Park counties, somewhere around 130,000 live within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, while nearly 90% live outside the Park.

As the chart at the end shows, Saratoga County gained over 15,000 people, while Hamilton gained 271 and Warren gained just 30. The biggest drops among Adirondack counties were Franklin and Herkimer counties, each of which saw losses of more than 4,000 people. One note of caution is that the prison population in New York State has sharply decreased in recent years and the Census counts inmates as residents in the community where they are imprisoned. The 12 Adirondack Park counties are home to a number of state and federal prisons, so there needs to be some adjustments for the prison population changes in these numbers. Nevertheless, a regional loss of -0.07%, some 7,300 people out of 1.013 million, is basically flat.

The Hamilton County population rose each decade from 1950 to 2000, growing by 31% overall, largely tracking the national rural population growth of the baby-boom generation and their offspring. Hamilton County dropped by -10% in 2010. The 5,107 resident 2020 population number, while up from 4,836 in 2010, is well below the county’s all-time high of 5,379 in 2000 and 5,279 in 1990. The 271 new residents is not a big number, but it goes to show that in a thinly populated place like the Adirondack Park small numbers can have a big impact.

Essex County, like Hamilton County, is 100% within the Blue Line. Essex County saw a -5.1% drop, from 39,370 to 37,381 residents from 2010 to 2020. Essex County has two large prisons and one small prison, which have seen decreasing inmate populations, which may have effected the total county numbers. We have Freedom of Information requests pending for Adirondack prison populations. Essex County had a population of 34,631 in 1970 and grew to its high of 39,370 in 2010. Its current population is larger than its 1980 population of 36,176 and similar to its 1990 population of 37,152.

Warren County, of course, is split by the Blue Line, with big chunks of Lake Luzerne and Queensbury outside the Adirondack Park, as is all of the City of Glens Falls. The 2020 Warren County population of 65,737 is the county’s all-time population high. It’s up 30 people from the 2010 US Census number of 65,707 residents.

Across New York State, the news about reinvigoration of Upstate cities would appear to be supported in the new Census numbers. The three Capitol District counties of Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer (Troy) all gained in low single digits, recruiting nearly 16,000 new residents between them. Erie County, which includes the City of Buffalo, dropped from 1.113 million in 1970 to a low of 919,000 in 2010, but bounced back to over 954,000 in 2020. Monroe County, which includes the City of Rochester, added over 15,000 people and Onondaga, which includes the City of Syracuse, added over 9,400 residents. Tompkins, Jefferson, Sullivan, and Ontario were the other Upstate counties that grew.

New York City gained over 600,000 people and the 10 Downstate counties saw over 800,000 new residents. Upstate was basically flat. This population shift will certainly create issues in how state Assembly and Senate seats and federal Congressional seats are redrawn for the 2022 election. For instance, the math says that roughly six Assembly seats will shift from Upstate to Downstate. New York is set to lose one congressional seat, but redrawing the state’s congressional map with one less seat is compounded by the growth in the state’s population downstate. Over 13.4 million of the state’s 20 million residents live in the 10 downstate counties.

The town-level data that will be released by the US Census next month will tell us a lot more about trends across Adirondack Park communities. The initial data released tells us a lot about population trends across New York State, especially relative to Upstate and Downstate. Though Schoharie County came close, with a -9.2% loss, there were no double-digit drops across Upstate counties, and many were relatively flat. The growth of Upstate counties with major cities, like Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse, also confirms larger national trends in the U.S. of growing metropolitan areas and shrinking rural areas.

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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.

11 Responses

  1. Tim-Brunswick says:

    undoubtedly because all the damn down staters are moving up North and then when they get settled in trying to change everything to mirror life as they have lived it in Long Island, Staten Island, New York City, etc, etc……

  2. Boreas says:

    I live in Essex county which has been “losing” population since I moved here 20 years ago. Yet everywhere I look, I see new, expensive construction and more people. Census data does not take into consideration multiple homes and tourists, and therefore has limited value in socioeconomic studies and trends.

    The data would indicate Essex county is “dying” (-5.1%), yet observation and real estate values appear otherwise. How much do second homes contribute to local and county coffers in revenue and taxes? How much does this type of economy add to gentrification and the inability for low-income people to remain? How many people simply list their other home as their primary residence to avoid many NYS income taxes? Voting is limited to your primary residence location. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable.

    • Zephyr says:

      I believe the Census has various means of normalizing the data based on door-to-door surveys that are extremely detailed. People are supposed to report where they live most of the time. Census data is not used by the IRS so that should not influence where you report your home. One thing I suspect is going on in Essex County is that in the past homes were occupied by more people–entire families or extended families. Today we see lots of huge homes with one or two people rattling around. I see that on the block where I grew up just outside the Adirondacks. Every building is now a single-family home and most are older couples at the most. Many are unoccupied the greater portion of the year. Yet, the homes are all fixed up, look gorgeous, and mean real estate values are through the roof–but few people living there except in the summer. Lots of them actually domicile in large cities that are far away.

      • Boreas says:

        During the most recent depression, many homes in my area sold to Canadians because they didn’t really suffer the economic loss we did. The last 2 years, some of those houses have been less-used because of COVID border restrictions, but they are still used. Of course they don’t add to the census either. I guess my point is, census data alone does not tell the whole story. Net loss of residents does not necessarily indicate a declining economy or per-capita income.

        • Zephyr says:

          It’s a mixed bag economically when homes are only occupied seasonally. Obviously, they require less services while still paying taxes on the high value of their homes. On the other hand, when the homes are unoccupied nobody is buying gas, groceries, gifts, meals, etc. The town may be doing fine with regard to taxes to cover municipal services, but there are no businesses open to serve the people who live their year-round and there will be no jobs for those people a good portion of the year. In short, the “economy” can be great even if individuals are not doing well.

  3. JB says:

    Hi Peter, thanks for this! I would point out that the 2020 Decennial Census Reference Date was April 1, 2020–less than 2 weeks after NYS went into COVID lockdown. Maybe the smaller sample-size 2021 ACS will show greater changes, but we will probably need to wait until 2030 to see the real effects of COVID-19 on Park population.

    With all of the data format changes and roll-out delays, the new census data is extremely esoteric. I could be wrong, but I believe that they actually have already published the low-level (town, block) data and demographic data (including prison population) in the legacy *.pl files (raw pipe-delimited data) on the FTP server. Once I have a bit more free time to sort through the technical documentation (very cryptic, not intended for the public), I am planing on writing a Python script to automate: 1) using the TIGER shapefiles to find all census blocks within the APA boundary (blocks align with the Park boundary); and, 2) consistently tabulate the 2010 format and 2020 format raw data for calculation of a total Park population change. You may have data scientists working with Protect! who could beat me to it, in which case my endeavor would be redundant. But if not, I’ll put my script up on my GitHub page for those interested. I just wish that the Bureau would go back to the old data format, it was so much easier to work with (for serious data scientists)!

  4. Vanessa B says:

    Not surprised here. I echo the comments of the folks who note, essentially, that this isn’t a “sky is falling” result either. I have commented before that my old stomping ground Saratoga has become gentrified as hec and has all sorts of businesses and buzz popping up as a result.

    My political brain notes that this data is gonna lend some drama to the 2020 redistricting kerfuffle, when it comes to figuring out how to redraw NY21. Dems have to expand it due to population loss. They have the 2 options of attempting to “purplize” (my technical term, just invented lol) the district and weaken Stefanik, or pack it by extending out towards the Finger Lakes and the county my mom grew up in to retain “redder” voters. The buzz I’ve read online is that they want to pack it in order to flip other seats. Imo, since they have to create a district by population size, there is a lot of demographic pressure to push south into the Glenns Falls-Saratoga area. Which would purplize it instead. I’m also biased – I obviously would prefer a more competitive situation given my feelings towards Stefanik.

    Finally, my “local issues” brain feels that this is a good example of why the right type of advertising to gain new residents is still positive overall. JB, I acknowledge that this view may not be shared :p Getting new permanent residents will be the only way to reverse this trend.

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