ITHACA, N.Y. — In between all the reminders to fill out your census form, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released their final set of estimates for the 2010s. If you’re in the town of Lansing, they suggest you might be saying hello to more neighbors. If you’re in the town of Dryden, they say you’re more likely to be saying goodbye.

These estimates cover the period from the 2010 Census to the estimation cutoff date of July 2019, and can be found on the Census Bureau’s webpage here. If you want to look up villages and cities, those fall under the “incorporated places” category, while towns are under the “Minor civil divisions” category.

Note that in the above chart, villages are shown separately from towns because their populations are considered to be part of those towns – so for instance, Dryden village makes up 2,047 residents of the estimated 14,265 residents in the town of Dryden.

Based on these numbers, the big growers in Tompkins County by sheer number of new residents have been the city of Ithaca and town of Lansing, with 796 and 583 more residents respectively. That might sound impressive at first glance, but the United States average was 6% from 2010 to 2018, and was initially projected to be 8% from 2010 to 2020. So basically, every municipality except Dryden village is below average.

It’s a rather unusual trend, given that for decades, the City of Ithaca stagnated or lost population, while the towns of Ithaca, Dryden, and to a lesser extent Lansing, grew by leaps and bounds. From 1960 to 2010, the town of Ithaca added almost 11,000 people. In the same time frame, Dryden added over 7,000 people.

Notably, up until about 2016, the numbers for municipalities like Dryden had actually shown gains of several hundred people. So what happened?

Well, part of is that the Census changed the way they perform estimates of foreign-born residents. In an April 2019 interview with the Voice, Jan Vink, an Extension Associate with Cornell’s Program on Applied Demographics, noted that the Census Bureau changed the way international migration was calculated and distributed. The re-calculation resulted in the “disappearance” of over 2,000 residents from Tompkins County.

Another part of it is that international migration into the United States has plunged by nearly 50%. In New York State, population growth, which was meager and limited to the New York City area and a few affluent upstate counties, the majority of that growth was due to international migration into New York City. With immigration rapidly declining, New York’s small population growth becomes a population decline in Census estimates.

Since these are estimates, the base approach in New York is to assume a decline in all areas based off of the previous trend of domestic migration out and decreasing international in-migration, and then adjust the numbers for local factors, such as residential building permit filings. In the case of Dryden village, it was the construction of the Poet’s Landing Apartments earlier in the decade. Lansing village had shown an unexpected jump in population from 2018 to 2019 because of the 140-unit East Pointe Apartments, which were issued building permits in late 2018. (Only a few tenants had moved in by July 1, 2019, but estimates are estimates).

The long story short is, the numbers may be on the decline throughout most of Tompkins County, or it could be that the estimates and modeling by the Census Bureau are off (it does happen, they underestimated Syracuse’s Onondaga County by over 12,000 from 2009 to the 2010 census).

Then again, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the census and attempts to politically manipulate the census results, even the actual 2020 census numbers may be suspect. Locally, the primary concern is that college students, who are instructed to use their student residences since they spend the majority of the year here, will instead be counted in their parents’ homes since they were sent home by the schools to try and stop COVID spread. If this happens in large numbers, this will hurt Tompkins’ ability to obtain funding for roads, fire and police equipment, and other population-based government grants for services. If you were looking for good news, this is not your article.

County population trends by percentage, 2010-18. Image courtesy of the non-profit Population Resource Bureau.

Nationally, the story is the same as it is with upstate New York. Most counties across the country are seeing population decline, aside from some growing cities and suburban areas. The primary areas of growth are in the Sunbelt and Western United States, with Phoenix, San Antonio (once again home to Voice editor emerita Jolene Almendarez), Fort Worth, Seattle and Charlotte posting the largest numerical gains.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.