Erie County’s estimated population dropped 0.54 percent last year to 913,338 residents
By Stephen T. Watson
Updated: 03/20/08 6:45 AM

Shrinking population

Erie County lost 5,001 residents last year, continuing a decade-long trend of annual population losses seen here and across upstate New York, according to new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, at least one expert cautioned that the declines reported for Erie and Niagara counties shouldn’t be taken too seriously because bureau estimates have proved to be inaccurate in the past.

“People need to bear in mind that these are estimates built upon estimates,” said Kathryn A. Foster, director of the Regional Institute at the University at Buffalo.

Still, the figures released Wednesday by the Census Bureau are the latest signs that upstate New York communities haven’t been able to stanch their population declines.

Upstate’s largest counties — Erie, Monroe, Onondaga and Albany — all lost residents over the previous year, and only Albany County has seen a net population gain since 2000.

“There are no real surprises. It’s the continuation of a trend. For the most part, downstate is showing the increases. Maybe a little around Albany,” Foster said Wednesday.

The new Census Bureau data shows Erie County lost 0.54 percent of its population in the 12 months between July 2006 and July 2007 and Niagara County’s population essentially remained flat over that time, falling 0.08 percent.

Since April 2000, Erie County’s population has fallen by 3.9 percent, from 950,265 to 913,338, and no county in New York State lost more people over those seven years than the 36,927 who left Erie County, according to Census figures.

Niagara County lost 165 people between 2006 and 2007, when its population fell to 214,845, and a total of 4,999 people since 2000, the census estimates.

Those figures are in line with the population losses for other counties in Western New York and across upstate New York.

All eight of the counties of Western New York lost population between 2006 and 2007 and show overall population losses of between 0.6 percent and 4.2 percent since 2000, the data shows.

Cattaraugus County, in fact, at a 0.62 percent decline, had the highest population loss between 2006 and 2007, by percentage, of any county in the state.

The annually updated estimates are based on birth and death records and migration patterns that are tracked through address changes on federal tax returns.

Foster noted, however, that the yearly estimates can often undercount population.

In 2000, for example, the more-accurate, once-a-decade census count found that previous yearly estimates had under-counted Erie County’s population by about 25,000 people, she said.

No matter how the final numbers come out in 2010, it’s clear that downstate’s population is holding steady or rising while upstate’s is slowly declining.

Orange County in the Hudson Valley has been the fastest growing county in the state since 2000 and remained so last year with a growth rate of 0.8 percent.

Neighboring Sullivan County was No. 2 with a 0.7 percent growth rate over the year.

The mid-Hudson Valley experienced a population boom over much of the decade, fueled in part by post-Sept. 11 jitters in New York City and sky-high home prices closer to the city.

New York City grew by 0.29 percent over the year.

Overall, the state’s population nudged up by 15,741 in the 12 months ending in July 2007, to 19.3 million people.

The census figures show that the population drain from the Northeast and the Midwest to the South and West is continuing.

While some counties in the Southwest experienced dramatic change over the year — growth rates were as high as 8 percent in Texas — no county in New York saw a percentage gain or loss of more than 1 percent.

This is important, Foster said, because if the state’s slower-than-average population growth is captured in the 2010 Census, New York could lose out to boom states on financial aid and congressional representation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.