The northern Hudson Valley and Catskills’ population has fallen faster than greater Upstate New York in recent years.
Seven counties — Columbia, Greene, Ulster, Delaware, Putnam, Sullivan and Dutchess — saw a loss in population from 2010 to 2017, with Orange, Westchester and Rockland counties seeing an increase, according to an analysis of Census data.
Academics and officials offered their theories as to why the population has fallen, including rural gentrification, a high tax burden, a decline in agriculture, and a lack of economic opportunities.
The southern Hudson Valley saw an increase in population from 2010 to 2017, while the Catskills and northern Hudson Valley saw the largest decrease in the region. Rockland County’s population rose 5.5 percent, the most in the region, while Delaware County’s population dropped six percent, the region’s largest decrease.
There are two reasons a region’s population can fall — the number of people leaving the region is greater than the number arriving, or the number of deaths is greater than the number of births.
More people moved to Westchester County than left between 2010 and 2017, but it is the only county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills with this distinction, according to an analysis of Census figures by the Empire Center for Public Policy. All other counties saw more people leaving than arriving.
The region is not unique in this regard. Only nine of New York’s 63 counties saw more people coming than leaving — called “positive net migration” — during this period.
The vast majority places in the U.S. have more births than deaths, but parts of Upstate New York (defined here as all counties north of NYC) have recently seen more deaths than births. This “negative natural increase” is a symptom of an aging population and is the most pronounced in the northern Hudson Valley and Catskills. Delaware, Greene and Columbia counties have the second, third and fourth highest negative natural increases in the state. Delaware County saw a population decrease of 2.2 percent from this factor alone, according to the Empire Center.
In the rest of the region, Ulster County saw a negative natural increase between 2010 and 2017, with all other counties seeing more births than deaths.
Though Upstate New York as a whole saw a slight population decrease since 2010 while most of the nation was growing, each part of the Hudson Valley and Catskills has different reasons for their population fluctuations.
Northern Hudson Valley & the Catskills
Greene, Columbia and Delaware counties saw the largest population loss in the region.
Joshua Simons, who is studying the region’s population shifts as a senior research associate at SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center, said part of the decline is not about who is moving out, but who is moving in.
“The people who are moving here tend to be more affluent, so of course our property values have skyrocketed over the last 20 years,” he said.
Even as Columbia County’s population fell about 4 percent from 2000-2015, its median home value rose 44 percent, from $154,000 to $222,000, according to Census figures.
“If [lower-income people] don’t already own property in the sort of more rural areas, then the opportunity for homeownership for [them] is diminished,” Simons said.
Younger people born in the region unable to buy homes don’t have the financial anchor of a mortgage to keep them there, Simons said, and are often attracted to other parts of the country by better economic opportunities.
These young adults can choose to have children elsewhere, taking successive generations away from the region as the remaining population continues to age.
In cities like Hudson and Kingston, new residents tend to be wealthier white professionals moving from New York City, Simons said.
“They tend to have fewer children, and so you can actually have an influx of people — more households moving in — but the size of your household is decreasing, leading to a population decline,” he said.
When Simon’s research was mentioned to Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt Murell, he laughed.
“They call that gentrification,” he said.
Murell also pointed to the county’s aging population.
“We’re becoming an older population — people aren’t having as many children,” he said. “When I graduated high school in 1973…we almost graduated 300 people out of the Hudson High School, now they’re lucky if they graduate 100.”
Hudson’s shrinking child population led the city to close the John L. Edwards Primary School at the end of the 2017-2018 school year and move its students to another one of its schools with declining enrollment.
Murell pointed to the financial burden of living in the state as a possible reason for the population decline.
“I think it’s a variety of factors…we’re one of the higher-taxed states in the country — I think that has something to do with it,” he said. “I know a lot of friends of mine who have left the area because of that — it’s cheaper to live elsewhere.”
Columbia County’s population will continue to decline, according to predictions by Cornell University’s Program on Applied Dynamics (PAD).
PAD Extension Associate Jan Vink said the predictions are based on extrapolations of Census data and are constantly being updated as that data is revised.
Columbia County, with a population of 60,604 as of 2017, is expected to drop below 55,000 residents by 2038, according to the predictions.
On the other side of the Hudson, Greene County has lost one out of every 29 residents from 2010-2017, according to Census data.
The county has seen more deaths than births since at least 2000, according to PAD.
Greene County Director of Economic Development and Planning Karl Heck said younger people move to the county, but many of the new arrivals were weekenders who decided to retire in their second homes.
Retirees tend not to have children living with them, so this simultaneously raises the median age and decreases household size.
Greene County’s population rose in every decennial Census from 1920 until 2010, Heck said, and he cites some indicators suggesting Greene County’s population decline might be moderating.
Though there continues to be more deaths than births, more people moved to Greene County over the last two years than moved away. The county added 104 people this way in 2018, according to the Greene County Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, though the overall population declined due to deaths.
The Census counts second homeowners in their primary residence, and their Greene County weekend homes are counted as vacant, Heck said.
The Census only updates this information every ten years, so the current numbers don’t include many of the weekenders who have retired in their second homes, he added.
PAD predicts Greene County’s population will fall to 43,697 by 2040 from it’s current 47,470 residents, but it hasn’t yet taken into consideration the recent uptick in arrivals.
Ulster, Sullivan and Dutchess counties saw their population fall between 2000 and 2017, while Orange County saw its population rise, according to Census numbers
However, the downward trend has recently moderated, as only Ulster County saw its population decrease from 2016-2017.
Josh Simons said the increase from 2000-2010 was driven by recent immigrants.
“New population growth from 2000-2010 was driven largely by an influx of Latino immigrants, particularly in our urban areas, so when you see population growth in Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, you largely see that growth being driven by a shift in…the Latino population.”
Without this influx, the region might have seen its population decline during the 2000s, Simons said, but this influx has since “tapered off.”
One theory suggests the revitalization of Hudson Valley cities has displaced the immigrants with wealthy NYC transplants, and their households tend to have less people, Simons said.
Orange County’s population increase has moderated in the last decade — it rose 9.4 percent from 2000-2010, then 2.3 percent from 2010-2017 — but the population continues to rise because of some continued Latino migration and the growth of Kiryas Joel.
The village has seen a giant influx of Ultra-Orthodox Jews from a sect traditionally inhabiting Brooklyn in recent years.
The village’s population jump comes mostly from the sect’s birth rate, which Simons calls “tremendous.”
As a result, more than 60 percent of the village’s residents are under the age of 18, compared to 21 percent of the state’s population. The village’s population rose more than 20 percent from 2010-2017, according to Census figures.
Orange County is also close enough to New York City to be commutable, Simons said, and the area was seeing an influx of workers who had been priced out of NYC.
Orange County’s population will continue to rise, according to PAD predictions, going from about 382,000 today to 400,000 by 2033.
Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties are predicted to fall in population through 2040, according to PAD.
There are some factors in the region’s population decrease larger than the individual counties themselves.
As Murell pointed out, New York has high taxes. According to an analysis by Wallethub, the average New Yorker’s state tax burden is the highest in the nation at just over 13 percent. As comparison, Kansas, which has the 25th highest tax burden, taxes its residents at 8.5 percent, while Alaska taxes its residents at under 5 percent, the nation’s lowest, according to the analysis.
Empire Center Policy Analysist Ken Girardin also put the depopulation in business terms.
“We watch migration trends because they are the best indicator of how the state is competing with the rest of the country,” he said. “If policymakers are concerned about the fact that people are leaving more than they’re coming here, the solution is to improve the business climate and make the state more economically competitive.”
Simons said the population decline was due to market forces and was “not a place where government intervention can tip the scales.”
As an afterthought he mentioned farm subsidies being restructured in a way that benefits smaller farmers, especially small dairy farmers.
Agriculture in the Hudson Valley has been declining since the 1970s, and the dairy industry has been hit particularly hard in recent years.
Then there’s the weather, infamously blamed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for people moving to other states.
Though many retirees locate to sunnier climates, the Hudson Valley has a preponderance of this age group.
Girardin took issue with the governor’s assertion.
“We know the problem here isn’t the weather — Minnesota is doing better at attracting people than New York is.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct a mis-type; Greene County has had more deaths than births since 2000, not the other way around.
Afterword: The Great Narrative of the Hudson Valley
The inspiration for this article came