Population Trends in New York State

By Dave Lucas, NYSAC Director of Finance and Intergovernmental Relations
In 1960, New York State had the highest population in the nation with about 16.8 million people. By 1970, the rapid population growth in California had positioned that state as the most populace and New York dropped to second with about 18.2 million people. The 1970's was a tumultuous decade for many urban and heavily industrialized states. New York, along with other similarly situated states, saw significant population losses during that decade. New York City's population alone dropped by more than 1 million people during the 1970's as suburban communities blossomed and there was a large migration to southern states and the West Coast.
New York State would not surpass its 1970 population for 30 years until the 2000 census. Through the 2010 census, New York managed to cling to its third most populous state ranking, but by the end of 2014 the Census Bureau estimated that Florida took away the number three spot from New York. While New York should retain its number four ranking for some time to come, the rate of population growth over the last 55 years as compared to the rest of the nation is a cause for concern.
The growth trend for New York has not improved in recent years as the state remained in the bottom five in population growth and dropped from fifth lowest growth rate to fourth lowest growth rate for the 2010 through 2015 period.
In addition to changing growth trends across states, a similar dynamic plays out at the county level in New York. Population trends across counties have varied significantly over the years, but most counties have experienced population loss since 2010.
Population Trends in New York's Counties
 Only six counties have gained population in each decade since 1970 as well as during the 2010 through 2015 period.
 Four counties have lost population in each decade since 1970 and also from 2010 through 2015.
 The trend in the number of counties experiencing population losses has accelerated over time.
Even though the year to year decline in some counties is only a handful of people, the overall trend is not positive.
 From 1970 to 2015 – 16 counties lost population
 From 1980 to 2015 – 20 counties lost population
 From 1990 to 2015 – 28 counties lost population
 From 2000 to 2015 – 31 counties lost population
 From 2010 to 2015 – 43 counties lost population
 Counties with the highest growth rates over the last 45 years have experienced a steady rate of increase in nearly every decade since 1970.
These population trends are significant as we look into the future. Population loss can lead to a loss of political power in Washington DC, fewer federal grant dollars, gaps in resources to meet the needs of an aging population, shortfalls in available and trained workers, and declining economic growth and opportunities, among other issues.
The data comes from Cornell University, Program on Applied Demographics, and it highlights the population challenges that many counties across New York may face in the coming decades. The impact by county ranges from a loss in population of up to -42 percent or an increase of nearly 20 percent. Both extremes will provide their own challenges and, as a state, we need to have a plan in place to meet these challenges and opportunities head on.