Upstate New York's Population Plateau: The Third-Slowest Growing 'State'


An analysis of population and migration data for the 52 counties of Upstate New York between 1980 and 2000 finds that:

  • Upstate New York's population grew by a mere 1.1 percent in the 1990s, slower than the growth rate of every state but West Virginia and North Dakota. Upstate is part of a larger stagnant region, stretching from parts of New England to northern West Virginia, that grew less than 1 percent, compared to over 13 percent in the U.S. as a whole.

  • Within Upstate New York, only two regions grew in the 1990s. Extending north of New York City through Albany and Saratoga, the Hudson Valley region is Upstate's fastest growing area, followed by the Rochester/Finger Lakes region. In contrast, Western New York, home of Buffalo-Niagara Falls, continues to decline, evidenced by a loss of over 22,000 residents during the decade.

  • Overall, more people moved out of Upstate than moved in during the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2002, over 1.7 million people moved out of Upstate New York, while only 1.3 million moved in. The majority of out-migrants moved to states in the South and Northeast. The biggest migration flows into Upstate's regions came from within the state.

  • Nearly 30 percent of new residents in Upstate New York in the 1990s were prisoners. Upstate gained 21,000 new prisoners during the decade, an increase that was accompanied by a growing number of prison staff, as well as inmates' relatives. Upstate has a larger share of prisoners than the nation as a whole—1.1 percent of its population in 2000, compared to just 0.7 percent of the U.S. population.

  • Upstate's large senior citizen population increased in size and share, especially in its slow growing regions, in the 1990s. Fourteen percent of Upstate's residents in 2000 were 65 or over, compared to 12 percent nationwide. Western New York had the largest share of seniors, at 16 percent, up from 15 percent in 1990. Newburgh, in the Hudson Valley region, was the only Upstate metropolitan area where the share of seniors actually fell in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Upstate's small racial and ethnic minority population is unevenly distributed among its metropolitan areas and segregated within them. Though Upstate New York remains primarily white, its share of black and Hispanic residents increased by 17.6 and 54 percent, respectively, during the 1990s, reflecting trends in much of the country. Beyond the metropolitan areas closest to New York City, Buffalo and Rochester are Upstate's most diverse regions, though their racial and ethnic minorities are highly segregated.