Call it the disappearing population decline.
When the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2020 decennial estimates in early May, the numbers showed population drops in both Monroe County and the Rochester metropolitan area. They appeared to signal a departure from long-term growth trends in the county and metro region.
But there was reason to suspect the estimates: In final state-level decennial data released a week earlier, New York had gained 823,000 people, or 4.2 percent, compared with 2010—versus a loss of 40,000 people, as estimates made public in December had indicated.
Thursday afternoon, the Census Bureau released final data that confirmed the May estimates were off the mark. In fact, both Monroe County and the Rochester metropolitan area gained population from 2010 to 2020.
The increases were modest, however, well behind the percentage gains for both New York and the nation.
Monroe County’s population in 2020 was 759,443, up from 744,344 a decade earlier—a gain of 15,099 or 2 percent. The estimates had shown Monroe County’s population declining by nearly 3,500, or 0.5 percent, over the last decade.
The 10-year decline in the estimates for the metro area was even bigger: 12,200, or 1.1 percent. By contrast, the final numbers show the metro population grew to 1,039,383 from 1,028,054, a gain of 11,329 or 1.1 percent.
Ontario County—the only county regionwide to show growth in the estimates—added people at the fastest clip in the six-county region. Its 2020 population reached 112,458, up from 107,931 in 2010, a gain of 4,527 or 4.2 percent. That matched the percentage growth statewide.
All of the region’s more rural counties shed population over the 10-year period: Livingston County slid to 61,834 from 65,393, a loss of 3,559 or -5.4 percent; Orleans County fell to 40,343 from 42,883, a loss of 2,540 or -5.9 percent; Wyoming County’s population declined to 40,531 from 42,155, down 1,624 or -3.9 percent; and Yates County slipped to 24,774 from 25,348, a loss of 574 or -2.3 percent.
The city of Rochester’s population also grew slightly, to 211,328 from 210,565 in the 2010 census. It now ranks fourth among the state’s cities, behind New York City, Buffalo and—by a few hundred residents—Yonkers. Including populous towns on Long Island such as Hempstead and Brookhaven, Rochester ranks 10th on a list of New York population centers.
The May population estimates were greeted with dismay locally because metropolitan Rochester had never experienced a population decline in decennial census data since 1900, growing from 217,854 at the start of the 20th century to 1,079,671 in 2010. Monroe County’s population had grown from 49,855 in 1830 to 744,344 in 2010 with a single 10-year dip: a 1.4 percent decline from 1970 to 1980.
Tempering any relief that the final numbers might bring is this fact: The county and metro growth rates are far less robust than the 7.4 percent population increase nationwide and the even higher rates posted by the fastest-growing metros.
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.