The US Census released its first cut at its 2020 decennial count today. This data is limited, delivered for the purpose of redistricting for statewide and federal representation. Much more detailed data will be released to the public at the end of September with population data at the county, town and state level. In 2022, we’ll get more data on age and race as well as economic data.
The limited data 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 maps provided tell us that 23 counties saw modest population gains, while 39 counties saw losses. While we do not have final figures, the lower Hudson Valley (Orange, Rockland, Westchester), New York City, and the Long Island counties all gained. The five counties in the City and the three Lower Hudson River counties all gained at between 5 to 9.9%. The two Long Island counties gained at between 0 to 4.9%.
Upstate, the US Census maps showed that Saratoga and Hamilton Counties gained at between 5 to 9.9%, while Warren gained at between 0-4.9%. All other Adirondack Park counties lost population. Hamilton County gained 271 new people.
Throughout Upstate, the three Capitol District counties of Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer all gained in low single digits, as did Jefferson (Fort Drum), Onondaga (Syracuse), Ontario, Monroe (Rochester), Tompkins (Ithaca), and Erie (Buffalo) counties. Upstate cities have been seeing growth in the past decade, reversing decades of decline.
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.
For the 39 Upstate New York counties that lost population, which includes 9 Adirondack Park counties, they’re joined by roughly 53% of the rest of the U.S. The US Census report that over 1,600 of the roughly 3,100 counties in the U.S. lost population in the last decade. See the chart below.
For those who are busy crafting population recruitment strategies for the Adirondacks and North Country, the competition from other rural areas is growing. In the initial US Census maps, there were at least 1,630 counties outside the Adirondacks that lost population from 2000 to 2010. That’s a lot of small towns who are looking at ways to attract and recruit new residents.
Across the North Forest, most of the counties most like the Adirondacks lost population. All seven of the northern Maine counties lost population. In New Hampshire, Coos County in the far north, and in Vermont two of the three counties in the Northeast Kingdom, lost population.
One general rule of thumb in the initial US Census numbers for 2020 is that small population counties with 50,000 people or less mostly lost population and high population counties gained. The 10 biggest population centers in the U.S. all gained population from 2000 to 2010. This trend is accelerating and intensifying.
In 2000, the US Census told us that 84.3% of the 282 million Americans, some 237.7 million people, lived in metropolitan areas. In 2020, the rate increased to 86.3% of the 331 million Americans, 285.6 million people, lived in metropolitan areas. This was an increase of nearly 48 million people, while rural areas grew by just 1.1 million people.
In the last 20 years, for every one person that decided to move to, or get born in, a rural area in the U.S., 48 others made the opposite choice and aimed for a metropolitan area.
The 2020 US Census initial county map for the country tells the story. Much more data will come out in the next two months that will tell us a lot more about raw population gains or losses at the town level.
Once the full suite of age, sex and race data becomes available that will provide Adirondack leaders with much more accurate information to assess long-term trends and compare how we stack up against other rural areas in the Northeast U.S. as well as the U.S.
In the Adirondacks it would be nice to think that we’ve moved beyond blaming the Adirondack Park or the Forest Preserve or environmental protections for our population challenges, but we’re probably not there yet.
When over 1,600 counties in the U.S., over 50% of the whole, experienced population losses over the last ten years, and 39 of 62 counties in New York State experienced population losses, our challenge should be seen one as part of a larger trend facing rural areas in the U.S. and not something driven by particular state policies.