WATERTOWN — The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its annual population estimate that shows New York state lost more residents than any other state last year. But one researcher thinks the estimated population drop may not be as bad as officials are projecting.
According to the numbers from the bureau, which are estimated based off data from the 2010 Census, New York state lost more than 126,000 residents between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020. The runner-up was Illinois, which lost 78,000 residents in the same period, about 47,000 fewer than New York.
If the final 2020 Census reflects this population drop, the state could lose two seats in the House of Representatives, and two votes in the Electoral College. New York currently has 27 House seats and 29 Electoral College votes — tied for third with Florida among states with the most electoral votes.
But regardless of the Census results, the state is expected to lose one of each, according to an analysis by William Frey, chief demographer at the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research group.
New York is among ten states expected to lose one seat each. Texas, which saw the largest bump in population, is predicted to gain three seats in the House.
New York state’s population has been dropping since 2016, but the Census Bureau’s estimate this year showed more people than usual left — 0.65%.
The Census Bureau stressed that these numbers are estimates based off of old data, and the data will be compared with the 2020 Census results to establish how accurate bureau models are.
To establish their annual estimates, the Census Bureau uses a formula that takes a region’s population base, adds births, an estimated number of how many people may have moved in or out of the region, then subtracts deaths.
Jan K. Vink, a researcher with Cornell University’s Program on Applied Demographics, said he thinks the Census’s projection may be worse than the reality, but he has major concerns over what the final 2020 Census will ultimately show.
He said between 2017 and 2018, the bureau projected New York state lost 0.3% of its population, and from 2018 to 2019, the bureau projected the state lost 0.4%. But from 2019 to 2020, officials are estimating a 0.6% change, he said.
“I don’t believe it was that bad,” he said.
Mr. Vink said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic definitely had far-reaching and long-lasting effects on population figures, and it isn’t immediately clear if the Census Bureau was able to account for those factors when establishing its estimates this year.
The Cornell Program on Applied Demographics uses Census data to inform its projections and, based on that data, Mr. Vink said the north country is one region of New York that’s seen a significant drop in population, as well as significant aging of the population that remains.
He said more than half of the people living in the north country today are above the age of 45, and the number of residents above the age of 65 is growing rapidly.
“Those are the age categories where mortality certainly starts to play a role, and they’re past their childbearing age, so there is not a lot of opportunity for growth,” he said.
According to the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics website, the north country currently has about 424,000 residents. The region encompasses seven counties, including Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties.
That number is projected to drop by 4,000 within two years, and by 2030, it’s projected that the north country will have lost another 3,000 residents.
Mr. Vink said other regions in New York state seeing similar trends are the Southern Tier and parts of Western New York.
The drop in population that New York is experiencing has worried some government leaders.
Over the weekend, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, issued a statement blaming state policies, in part, for the migration.
“People are leaving because they are overtaxed, overregulated and energy costs are too high,” he said. “It is too difficult for people to afford to live in this state and for businesses to be successful. Until we have a significant overhaul of taxes and regulations and mandates and focus on lowering our energy costs, we will continue to face a significant challenge here.”
While state Republicans largely are blaming the state government for the population decline, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has blamed many different factors, including federal pandemic regulations and the weather in upstate New York.