ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s that time of the the year again. The United State Census Bureau rolled out its 2017 population estimates earlier this year, and Tompkins County continued to show growth while most upstate New York counties lost population.
It should be noted that “growth” is somewhat subjective here. The United States Census Bureau revised the population of Tompkins County down for every year from 2011-2016. The reported 2017 figure is actually lower than the 2016 figure (104,871), it just looks higher because they revised all the years lower. They did the same thing last year as well – the initial 2015 figure was 104,926. The fact of their matter is that estimates are only estimates, more of a gauge than an actual value.
Every year, the Census calculates estimates from a combination of births, deaths, in-migration and out-migration. Births and deaths are easy enough to track through official records, but migration is a bit trickier, usually requiring a combination of IRS filings, Medicare enrollment, and the application of ” migration risk” percentages to attempt to quantify the movement of U.S. residents who aren’t filing tax returns.
Some of this may be attributable to a “bleeding over” regional application of data movements, assuming for instance that because Tompkins and Chemung Counties are similarly-sized neighbors, they must be moving in similar directions when it comes to “migration risk” – most folks here would know otherwise, but these are the details bureau staff might miss when playing with data for over 3,000 counties nationwide.
The bureau uses a “top-down” approach, meaning the national estimate is better, state estimates are very good, larger counties are good and medium-sized and smaller counties are…well, they try their best. In general though, the estimates are pretty good: the census estimate for Tompkins County was only off by 30 people when the 2010 Census was tallied up. But sometimes, it’s really bad. The initial Census Bureau estimate turned out to be over 12,000 people short for Onondaga County (Syracuse area) when the 2010 census was conducted.
Certainly, when one looks at upstate New York on the whole, the numbers are not good at all. 42 of New York’s 62 counties have lost population since 2010. The only counties adding population upstate are those in the capital region (Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga), Buffalo (Erie), Rochester (Monroe and Ontario) and Tompkins. Unsurprisingly, the counties that are growing are generally the same ones that are adding jobs in any statistically significant quantity.
One thing that Tompkins seems to have going for it is a natural growth rate – there are more people born in the county than there are dying in the county. According to the New York Times, 22 other New York State counties have death rates higher than birth rates, including Southern Tier neighbors Schuyler, Broome and Chenango Counties.
The steepest decline has been in rural Hamilton County in the Adirondacks, which is estimated to have lost 7.4% of its population since 2010. The Bronx has grown the fastest, with 6.2% growth since the start of the decade.