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New York State counties by population density

Based on population estimates for 2016 from the Census Bureau.

New York State counties by density type

Grouping counties by these sorts of categories is blunt and loses a lot of nuance. (Example: Albany County has parts that are both very urban and very rural.) It does highlight the situation in a general way, though.

Also: We've totally made up these categories. They're not technical or official in anyway. But, again, we think they are generally indicative of the types of counties.

Among the notable exceptions:
+ Despite being in the "upstate suburban" category, which as a group was essentially unchanged in terms of population growth between 2010 and 2016, Saratoga County itself was up 3.39 percent.
+ The "upstate urban" category was essentially flat, but Albany County was up 1.52 percent over that period.
+ And going against the trend for NYC and its suburbs, Suffolk County on the eastern end of Long Island was estimated to be down ever so slightly over that period.

Another look at New York State's population change, this time along the urban/rural split

New York State counties population density 2016

There's a clickable map inside, because of course there is.

Here's a bonus track from last week's post about the slow population growth of the Albany metro area -- and the melting populations of many upstate counties.

That map above depicts counties by population density. The deeper the blue, the more people per square mile of land. It's pretty much you'd expect. But we had the numbers leftover so we figured we'd roll the map together.

As we mentioned last week, there's been an urban/rural split in the state over the last handful of years for population growth -- basically, counties with higher population densities have added people, while counties with lower population densities have lost. (With a few notable exceptions)

So we grouped the state's population by county density and it makes this divide very clear -- let's have a look, along with a clickable map...

Look up

The clickable map and the table are at the top in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.


One more thing: We mention the role of jobs -- or the lack of jobs -- last week in reference to the population bleed from many upstate counties. A new set of stories by the Investigative Post this week highlights that issue as part of wider discussion about the state's efforts to grow the economy, with tepid results. Many areas of upstate have either seen very low job growth, or even losses, since 2010.


A 'Catch 22', whereby you need sufficient population to grow jobs, and sufficient jobs to grow population....

Bob: that's been the story of economic development for a couple centuries now.

Herkimer county might as well close down.

The best thing we could do for these rural areas is assist people in moving out. The agricultural economy hasn't been healthy since the early 1920s; the main job in many of those areas is the awful state prison system. As we downsize that, why not help people move into urban areas that need more people anyway?

And, in this age of trumpism, why not put out a big giant welcome sign for immigrants? The city of Albany could use a few thousand new people. Do that and renovate vacant buildings at the same time and who knows, maybe we'll all be better off.

@Wesley, I could not agree more about welcoming immigrants to the state. I'm pretty sure that NYC's population growth over the last 10 years or so has been attributed to an increase in its foreign-born population. Smaller communities could also benefit from immigrants, who are more likely than native-born residents to start new businesses. Too bad our current president just doesn't get it.

I agree with both Wesley and Ellen. Generally speaking immigrants have been in the farming community and with their help NY State could again excell in farming, providing healthier foods grown local, not from Ca., Chile and Mexico to name a few.

Thousands of new immigrants (and refugees) have already settled in Albany. That's the only reason the population of the city is growing, and that Central Avenue still has some businesses on it. Certainly we could use many more, but who knows what will happen, however, with the new policies in the White House. Albany has a golden opportunity with these new families and should ensure their kids get a decent education in Albany's public schools, because if they do, they can make an enormous contribution. Outside of tourist areas rural New York will continue to depopulate unless the agricultural industry changes. With climate change wreaking havoc, however, on California, again who knows. We could see a return to smaller-scale farming in 50 years. Current agricultural techniques are not sustainable either because it relies so heavily on petroleum.

I love looking at data like this, but in this case it is extraordinarily misleading. Census information is a snapshot of a moment. Comparing two broad snapshots doesn't show what the movement actually is in between those two moments. It leads to off the cuff narratives that are sticky, but not particularly accurate.

In this case, the missing information are rates of births and deaths, which are not tracked by census. Large cohorts (like Greatest Generation folks, like Baby Boomers) move through decades, from snapshot to snapshot, mostly in the same place, causing population counts to shift periodically in one direction or another.

The implication is that upstate counties have something wrong with them that make people move away. While we know that happens anecdotally, this data does not express that.

These false narratives crop up in lots of places, most commonly in our conception of "when things started to go wrong": anecdotally most people would cite the 1970's and 80s as the era of population decline, where "all the mills closed down and people moved away." While there are notable examples of it at that time, most of the large scale "mills closing down" actually occurred in the 1930s. (Look at the farm census as well, and you will see some surprises)

In fact, when you examine census data against births and deaths data (which is maintained by NYS), it is in the 1930s and 40s when you see catastrophic population declines in cities. Not because people left the area, but because people moved outside the city limits and created suburbs that extracted resources from cities without providing sustainable tax bases.

This website should include the percentage of the rural areas in New York. A lot of people would want to know that as well.

The only thing I want to point out through all the rosy talk going on here is that immigration, our schooling system, and rural communities are things that carry a tremendous amount of nuance, and don't often work the way "simple solutions" claim they work. And I'd like to back up what @Justin said, data like this also carries with it difficulties in interpretation.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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