New York’s population continues to decline. These counties had it worst

Jeff Platsky
New York State Team

More than one-third of New York's 62 counties failed to record a population increase in any year in the past decade — 25 reported nine years of successive decreases, all upstate, census data showed.

Included in the population decline are all but two counties stretching along New York's Southern Tier, where the the combined loss was nearly 32,000 people.

The area had a 5% population decline that stretches from Delaware County to Chautauqua County, a 300-mile span along Route 17 where a slumping economy has left communities in tatters, the review of the census data by the USA TODAY Network New York found.

The Southern Tier's population flight illustrates a far larger issue for New York, where widespread head count losses from Buffalo to Plattsburgh to the Hamptons puts the state in the position to lose at least one, possibly two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives when the formal decennial Census count is released next year.

That loss will reduce the state's sway in major issues in national policy.

Trends worsen:Population declines: New Yorkers fleeing in greater numbers, Census shows

Public policy impact on NY's population loss

Ja'Keir Norris (left), the middle child of Lolita Mosley, departed for North Carolina in August 2019 to pursue new opportunities. Norris, who now works as a contract worker for Amazon, is one of an increasing number of native New Yorkers who left the state and contribute to a dwindling population,

"Loss of one (representative) is kind of a given," said Jan Vink, an extension associate with Cornell University's Program on Applied Demographics.

Forty-eight New York counties have fewer people in 2019 than in 2010, based recently released U.S. Census Department estimates.

"Since the (2010) Census, New York state gained 75,417 residents, a growth of 0.4%," said a Cornell analysis of the most recent data release.

"This growth percentage is far behind the national growth of 6.3% since 2010 and the overall growth in the Northeast Region (1.2% growth since 2010)."

Most alarming are recent trends in New York City, which lost 0.6% of its population between 2018 and 2019, which matched the Southern Tier in the second highest year-over-year population loss in the state.

Only the North County performed worse, with a 0.9% decline.

After showing consistent if relatively small gains from 2010 through 2015, the state's population posted successive losses from 2016 through 2019, according to Census estimates.

That means it has fallen further behind the three states with the largest population — California, Texas and Florida.

Florida passed New York in population in 2014, and out of the 1.4 million residents who left for other states between 2011 and 2018, 21% of them went to the Sunshine State, census data earlier this year showed.

New York has lost more people than any other state in the nation for two years in a row.

Tax policy hurts:Million-dollar earners in New York fell as concerns grow over rich leaving to other states

"In the last two years, the Census Bureau has begun making large downward adjustments to its estimates of international immigration, which has long been concentrated in the New York City metropolitan area," said E.J. McMahon, in his Empire Center analysis of the latest numbers.

"As a result, the estimated net change in the downstate population since 2016, in particular, has been reduced significantly."

While international migration has long provided New York with a flood of new residents, recent initiatives to clamp down on international migration has apparently eliminated the state's ability, particularly in the metropolitan area, to withstand large numbers moving out.

"There are certainly forces that make it harder for immigrants to come to the United States," said Vink, who cautioned against drawing conclusions from year-over-year trends.

The decennial count:Coronavirus is slowing down search for census workers, could make it harder to count Americans

Upstate losses continue. Here's where

New York counties with the worst percentage population losses from 2010 to 2019:

  • Hamilton, 8.7%
  • Delaware, 8.0%
  • Chenango, 6.5%
  • Essex, 6.3%
  • Chemung, 6.0%

Counties with the worst population loss from 2018 to 2019:

  • Jefferson, 1.8%
  • Essex, 1.1%
  • Bronx, 1.0%
  • Queens, 0.9%
  • Delaware, 0.9%

When Lolita Mosley completed her Census form earlier this month, she counted one less in her household. Ja'Keir Norris, her middle child, moved to North Carolina for a better opportunity after graduating from the University Prep charter school in Rochester.

More:New York leads the nation in population decline again in 2019

Mosley, 45, is likely to follow her son's lead, at least over the long term.

"I don't want to live here forever," said the case manager for a home health agency. "It's depressing a lot of months out of the year."

What's keeping her here now is the job, friends and her church, Rebirth Ministries.

But the coronavirus-related quarantine demonstrated she can keep connected to her church and friends virtually, and not have to cope with the long Monroe County winters.

Monroe County recorded a 0.4% population decline since 2010, dropping nearly 2,600 residents over then past decade.

More:I Leave NY: 1.4 million left for other states since 2010. Here's where they moved

A Census count amidst a pandemic

A New York City skyline facing the Empire State building

Forty-seven counties in New York recorded a population loss from 2010 to 2019; 53 reported a year-over-year loss from 2018 to 2019.

The Census Bureau uses Internal Revenue Service, Medicare and American Community Survey data in making its annual estimates.

Results of the constitutionally required decennial status will be available next April.

But demographic experts such as Vink wonder about the accuracy of a count conducted while the nation is gripped in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Census Bureau is working as hard as they can," Vink said.

But there are several others pressing issues competing for the public's attention, he noted.

"People have other things on their mind," Vink said.

More:Are people leaving upstate NY because of the weather? Cuomo takes heat for comments

Jeff Platsky covers transportation and the economy for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @JeffPlatsky

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