Wednesday, April 5, 2023

2022 US Census Estimates: 89% Of NYS Counties Lost Population

The US Census recently released its estimates for changes in U.S. population for 2021-2022. These are estimates that are based on samples and models from across the country and are not the complete counts that we see with the decennial census. This new estimate for New York State projected that the state lost just over 180,000 residents in the last two years, with losses projected from every part of the state. Across New York, 55 of the state’s 62 counties were estimated to have lost population.

Now, be advised that we should all take these estimates with whatever grain of salt that one chooses. Remember that throughout the 2010-2019 decade, the US Census estimates had New York State losing population, estimate after estimate, but the actual 2020 decennial US Census recorded a gain of over 800,000 new residents for the decade. The 2020 US Census was an important correction to the series of big misses from the estimates since 2010. There’s a difference between estimates that model a variety of samples and the actual counts undertaken every 10 years. This is also just county-level data; estimates are not done at the town level.

Nevertheless, the 2022 US Census estimates represent our country’s best work to try and capture and portray national trends. Moreover, there’s often accompanying hoopla about doom and gloom scenarios based on these estimates. The 2022 estimates show an intensification of trends that we saw in the 2020 Census of growing metropolitan areas and shrinking rural areas. The 2020 Census was historic because it marked the first time in American history that a majority of counties lost population. Though the U.S. gained over 25 million people from 2010 to 2020, those gains were concentrated overwhelmingly in specific regions of the country and metropolitan areas.

Some will grab the 2021-22 estimates and use them to indict the abundant Forest Preserve, existence of the Adirondack Park, and land use plan of the Adirondack Park Agency as proof that all things Adirondacks are going to hell, but those making this case should be cautious. First, as noted above, 55 of New York’s 62 counties are estimated to have lost population. There’s no APA in the Southern Tier or Brooklyn, and they both are estimated to have lost population. Second, across the Continental U.S., excluding Connecticut where the data is not usable, among the 3,015 counties with estimates, 1,648 were flat or were estimated to have experienced population gains, while 1,452 saw losses, so there’s plenty of company on the downside. Last, the 2022 estimate actually shows a minor overall population loss for the U.S. as a whole, a net loss of several thousand. With the deaths of over 1.1 million Americans from COVID, one has to wonder how that factored into our population dynamics.

The biggest question mark for me with the 2022 estimates is the county level population gain or loss projections. In 2022, it’s estimated that over 1,600 counties posted population gains, just two years after the much more rigorous 2020 US Census that found that the majority of American counties had lost population. In 2020, 1,650 counties posted actual losses. One has to wonder how much of COVID-driven modelling of flight to suburban and rural areas, that may or may not be case, is figuring into this calculus. Such a stark reversal for hundreds of counties from loss to gain in a 2-year period raises a lot of questions.

As stated above, New York State is estimated to have 55 out of 62 counties with population losses. These estimated losses ranged from a low of -0.029% in Delaware County, with a projected net loss of 13 residents, to -2.895% in the Bronx, with a projected loss of over 41,000 residents. These estimates are different from the 2020 US Census, where Upstate counties saw a minor drop, and New York City posted most of the gains. In the 2022 estimates, four of the five New York City counties were projected to have lost population: Queens at -2.15% (loss of 50,112); Kings (Brooklyn) at -1.78% (-46,970 residents); Richmond (Staten Island) at -0.47% (a loss of 2,351). New York County (Manhattan) was projected to have experienced the state’s largest gains at 1.1%, with some 17,472 new residents.

Adirondack Park counties figured in both the Top 10 for estimated gains or minimal losses, and the Top 10 for estimated losses in New York. That’s the Ying and Yang of Adirondack life. Among the seven counties with projected population gains in New York State was Saratoga County, estimated to have grown at 0.35%, attracting over 800 new residents. Hamilton County clocked in with a projected 0.078% growth rate, with an estimated net gain of 4 residents. (Really?) On the other end, Clinton (-1.55%) and Franklin (-1.41%) counties posted losses. Clinton County was estimated to have lost over 1,200 residents, Franklin County over 600, and Oneida County nearly 1,100 residents. Each of these counties host major state prisons, so we have to wonder how much the continued drop in the state’s inmate population factored into their estimated losses.

Essex County is estimated to have seen a -1.02% drop (-382 residents); St. Lawrence County -0.62%; Lewis County -0.17%; Oneida County -0.47%; Herkimer County -0.43%; Fulton County -0.72%; Warren County -0.26%; and Washington County -0.22%.

The saying used to be “as goes Hamilton County, so goes the Adirondack Park,” but that’s not quite the case. In the 2020 US Census, Hamilton, Saratoga, and Warren counties all posted net gains, while the other nine Adirondack Park counties experienced losses. Overall, the population for the 12 Adirondack Park counties was basically flat for the decade 2010-2020.

One part of how the Census models its population estimates is a comparison of births and deaths. When we look at the twelve Adirondack Park counties together deaths exceeded births by over 1,500. I’ve written widely on this demographic reality that dominates life in Rural America in the 21st Century. (See here, here, and here.) Baby Boomers are aging and dying, and it was the Baby Boomers that dramatically expanded rural populations in the 1950s-1980s. The children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers either had, or are having, smaller families. The reality is that across many parts of Rural America we have just as many adults of childbearing age as we did in the 1980s and 1990s, but they are having far fewer children.

Though there are questions with the 2022 US Census population estimates, they reinforce defining trends for the Adirondack Park and Rural America that will persist for the next two decades or longer because there’s not much that we can do to stop old people from dying or to force younger people to have more children.

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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.


18 Responses

  1. Daniel Way says:

    It remains to be seen how climate change will affect the upstate New York population going forward. Sooner or later the living conditions in the US southwest and tornado alley will drive swaths of migrants northward, but this may be offset by the dropping birth rate. And don’t forget about the influx of immigrants from eastern Europe over a century ago who were escaping political and religious persecution- could this happen again as the oligarchs make their countries unfit for their citizens?

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Sooner or later the living conditions in the US southwest and tornado alley will drive swaths of migrants northward…”

    The heat, which they thrive on, will keep them where they are Daniel. They won’t move north until it stays above 60 degrees here, or palm trees start taking root.

  3. Todd Miller says:

    I wonder whether the perceived “doom and gloom” condition due to declining population in the Adirondacks is actually offset by increased second homeowners and vacationers? Does anyone know the trends of second homeowners and vacation visits in the Adirondacks? Anecdotal evidence to me seems like hiking trails and snowmobile trails are experiencing increased traffic in recents years.

  4. louis curth says:

    Thank you Peter for reiterating America’s baseline demographic truth that; “Baby Boomers are aging and dying, and it was the Baby Boomers that dramatically expanded rural populations in the 1950s-1980s. The children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers either had, or are having, smaller families.”

    Back in the last century, when Earth’s human population stood at around one billion, the words of French philosopher Auguste Comte, “demography is destiny” seemed to have great meaning for preserving the viability of our wild places, such as the Adirondacks, that were still sustainable as functional ecosystems needed to maintain a healthy planet for all life on earth.

    Today, with a population close to eight billion humans, many craving a life style that is unsustainable, the last remnants of our wild lands and open spaces are being exploited economically and recreationally, They are under relentless stress that threatens them as never before. I can only hope, Peter, for the sake of all our young people’s future that the trend toward smaller families continues and becomes the norm for all.

  5. Availability of potable water will determine future population growth in the northeast, especially as much of the southwest drys up. Simply stated, a substantial number of the U.S. population resides in areas of the country that cannot sustain their need for water, and it is just a matter of time before that becomes overwhelmingly apparent.

  6. jeff says:

    What’s wrong with “losing” population? I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone look around and say, “Gee, I sure wish it was more crowded here.” In the year 2000, the US population was 281 million. Today it’s 332 million. Is life so much better now that there are 51 million more people? Was anybody miserable back in 2000 because there were “only” 218 million in this country?

    • Thank you, Jeff. Spot on.I have zero interest in the Park becoming some kind of bustling city-like atmosphere full of people. I’m GLAD we don’t have traffic, strip malls, strip mines, and strip clubs. I’m content to wander my lonely woods and subsist on my meagre income. Some people seem like they’d trade their own sanity, peace, and culture for “economic development.” I call that crazy!

  7. What’s wrong with “losing” population? Absolutely nothing! Population and pollution go ad in hand — reducing population reduces pollution.

    • Boreas says:


      It worries politicians. Shifting populations and demographics affect two big things – voter bases and tax apportionment. The census data influences how many states will be gerrymandered and the direction of state and federal tax-dollar flow.

      Historically “tax poor” states becoming enriched by an increasing tax base can expect fewer federal dollars from “richer” states losing tax base. It should be no surprise people flee states with high taxes to states with low taxes who are kept afloat partially by federal tax dollars and various federal subsidies.

  8. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “preserving the viability of our wild places, such as the Adirondacks, that were still sustainable as functional ecosystems needed to maintain a healthy planet for all life on earth….”

    I heard on the news this morning (public radio) a report about the Indonesian government pushing ahead with an Elon Musk project to extract nickel from a rainforest where there is one of the few remaining tribes that have no contact with the outside world; some of the most vulnerable people on Earth who rely entirely on what nature provides them. Without their rain forests they will die. Elon Musk, the billionaire who supports racist and hate-mongers…and Donald Trump not unsurprisingly! The nickel being sought after is for the benefit of Elon’s electric car market.

    One of the last remaining free tribes on this planet, after thousands upon thousands of years making it on their own by way of the natural environment which surrounds them; even with all of the industrialized, war-mongering, dysfunctional nations which have been proliferating for these past hundreds-plus years outside of them……and along comes Elon Musk. One person is all it takes to change that! It’s not just Musk, a billionaire hate-monger (did I say that already?), it’s our ‘market’ lifestyles thousands of miles away from this tribe which are contributing factors to this, our indifference to things outside of ourselves, our latest fad electric cars which we’re going to have come hell or high water! This tribe risks being wiped out entirely because the image in the mirror matters most!

    I pick-up on your marked concern for posterity Louis, and when you say, “the last remnants of our wild lands and open spaces are being exploited economically and recreationally” this is a huge understatement. I keep positive but I’m also a realist which I dare not try to elude for fear of becoming numb like the majority of humanity seemingly is.

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What’s wrong with “losing” population? Absolutely nothing! Population and pollution go hand in hand — reducing population reduces pollution.”

    Yes Walter! It’s about money is why us humans welcome more people to our communities. It’s about self. It’s about net gain, about the ability to sustain out material way of life. “Economy” as the politicos spew.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    ” there’s not much that we can do ……… to force younger people to have more children.”

    Immediately upon reading the above I thought of the recent overturning of Roe V Wade, which contradicts the same.

  11. Joan Grabe says:

    For the past 3 days Southwest Florida has experienced record high temperatures.
    Without the proliferation of modern day air conditioning, Florida would be uninhabitable. And this in early April. With more violent storms, rising sea levels and aging power grids it can be only the tax structure that is attracting such a population shift. They are not moving because of the schools. I don’t know what the ordinary citizen can do to attract residents to the Adirondacks but I know we can strengthen our current communities and keep them thriving. Let’s vote to improve local health services, local schools, improved environmental practices and enlightened governments. We can make a difference here and make life more rewarding for our neighbors and friends.

    EWe do not have that of modern

  12. Boreas says:

    Civilization has allowed humans to live beyond their means – at least for long periods of time. But many civilizations have failed due to environmental, political, and other external stresses. Minor population ebbs and flows should be considered normal – and probably necessary as local resources are depleted – living beyond your means. But the continually climbing WORLD population should be dead-center in our calculus. Food producing countries effectively enable countries with a net food deficit to maintain their local civilizations. This is global civilization at work. This is something relatively new for Nature though. Nature will always maintain a balance – whether smooth ebbs and flows of population dynamics, or extreme spikes and crashes along with ecological events. With the entire global human population still operating within the bounds of Nature, food and potable water should never be counted on as a given with continually changing populations and climate.

    Civilization has been a consequence of 10-15,000 years of fairly stable climate. It only takes a relatively minor change in climate to dramatically impact our likely unsustainable global population. Technology may help us, but won’t save us.

  13. Todd Eastman says:

    Perhaps the decreasing human population will reduce the amount of available fresh warm blood for the deer flies and black flies to feast on…

    … either depressing their populations, or making them even more thirsty…😎

    • Bill Ott says:

      In all seriousness Mr. Eastman, I am sure you realize if all 8 Billion people visited the park at once, the population density would then be 1,333 people per acre.

  14. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Joan Grabe says: “Without the proliferation of modern day air conditioning, Florida would be uninhabitable.”

    You say so much in your comment Joan to which I concur, especially the above. I’ve been saying for many a blue moon the same as what you say in that one-liner….that were it not for artificial air we wouldn’t be taking up so much space in that palm tree haven. Back in those pre air-conditioning Florida days they built houses with wrap-around porches, tin rooftops, and most of all… tall windows on all sides which breathed those houses, or let the fresh air in; plus they relied on natural air-conditioning… live oaks, to shade those structures, which nowadays we chop down because trees disturb us, their leaves make so much of a mess come autumn-time, that we’ll be darned if we have to put up with raking them!

    Nowadays houses in Florida are built to accommodate the electric companies…. with few windows, or windows not on all, or on four, sides, so as for tenants to be dependent on air-conditioners, or the electric companies, not fresh air flowing through. So yes….without a/c Florida would not be so over-populated! This is a given! It reveals, once again…..the artificial world in which we live and are dependent on.

  15. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Let’s vote to improve local health services, local schools, improved environmental practices and enlightened governments.”

    Without the latter the trio prior has no chance whatsoever!

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