Rochester, Monroe County see pandemic population loss

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Midsize and large cities in the Northeast U.S. on average returned to population growth in 2023, but not Rochester.

While Northeast cities with populations of 50,000 or more grew by an average of 0.2 percent last year, Rochester’s population declined 0.6 percent, to 207,274 from 208,546, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020, triggering a boom in remote work, many experts predicted a population shift from major metros to less-expensive small and midsize cities. But the latest estimates, released May 16, show that has not occurred here. From April 1, 2020, to July 1, 2023, Rochester’s population dropped by 4,040, or 1.9 percent.

Elsewhere in the region, Batavia and Canandaigua also saw small population declines.

Rochester is not the only large upstate city to shed population during the pandemic. Buffalo shrank 1.3 percent and Syracuse lost 2.1 percent of its residents. Albany, however, grew 2 percent.

Like a number of the largest cities nationwide, New York City took a big population hit from COVID, declining 6.2 percent. Its decline continued in the 12 months ended July 1, 2023, but the rate fell sharply, to a 0.9 percent drop.

Nationwide, cities in the South continued to lead in population growth. In fact, 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities last year were in the South—and Texas alone accounted for eight.

No. 1 on the list of fastest-growing U.S. cities with a population of 20,000 or more was Celina, Texas, near Dallas; its population grew by more than 26 percent in 2022-23. San Antonio added more people (roughly 22,000) than any other city.

The 15 largest U.S. cities were unchanged in 2023. The top five were New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix.

The Census Bureau also has released population estimates for counties covering the period from April 2020 to July 2023. In the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, Ontario continues to stand out as the only county with a growing population—but it added just nine residents. Monroe County’s population declined by 10,948 residents, or 1.4 percent. The other counties also recorded negative growth rates: Livingston, -1.1 percent; Orleans, -3.1 percent; Wayne, -0.5 percent; and Yates, -1.2 percent. Of these counties, only Wayne and Yates reduced their losses compared with April 1, 2020, to July 1, 2022.

New York as a whole saw a 3.1 percent drop in population in the 2020-23 period, compared with 1 percent growth nationwide.

All of these numbers are estimates and could be subject to revision. When the Census Bureau released its 2020 decennial estimates in May 2021, the numbers showed declining population in Monroe County and the Rochester metropolitan area. But the release of final data three months later told a different story; Monroe County and the Rochester metro actually had gained population from 2010 to 2020. The city of Rochester’s population also edged upward, to 211,328 from 210,565 in the 2010 census.

All of the region’s more rural counties did lose population over the 10-year period, however.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

8 thoughts on “Rochester, Monroe County see pandemic population loss

  1. Can the data be parsed to see what percent is due to COVID-related deaths, elderly deaths, and out-migration? One way to reverse the trend would be to develop mechanisms to welcome migrants and their families. If northern cities want to reverse the trend, we need attractive jobs for both skilled and unskilled people, job training, and apprenticeships, and we need to market the affordable housing this area offers. Additionally, sooner or later, people out-migrating to the South may want to return because we have plenty of fresh water and very few weather-related catastrophes that the South is seeing more and more of.

  2. I mean maybe people are leaving Rochester because the child poverty rate is 2x that of the average nationwide for a city our size? Or because the inner-city education system is in a shambles so kids being raised in the city have no hope or future? Maybe because instead of following SUCCESSFUL examples like the East irondequoit collab with the U of R RCSD insists on cancelling programs like that because …. reasons. Or because they’re tired of dealing with failing infrastructure, and a dysfunctional county and city government? Or due to the racism they personally experience on a daily basis?

  3. Also when analyzing the reasons people are leaving NYS we don’t see taxes in and of themselves as the major reasons. According to Newsweek, NSESC, empirecenter, hudsonvalley post, etc. the major reasons people leave NYS are:

    * Quality of life issues – if your city is crap, people are going to leave to where it’s not crap. If a city shrinks it’s quality of life goes down and that’s a self fulfilling loop.

    * Economic factors: this mostly affects low-income neighborhoods, not affluent neighborhoods. Low income people have less of a margin to absorb cost of living changes and will migrate when they can no longer afford the local economy. This isn’t Rochester though – this is NYC where the COL is immensely higher than here.

    * Population decline in general – the older your population is, the more you are affected by the increase in boomer deaths. This is offset in southern states by immigration from the following point, but in the next 20 years you’re going to see THOSE immigrants die off as the boomer generation disappears. Even those southern states will be shrinking and then where will they be with their glut of housing and anti-immigration stance etc.

    * When people retire they tend to retire to better climates than the northeast. Older people have less tolerance for shovelling snow and slipping on the ice. We’re not changing our climate any time soon, and boomers are going to continue to retire and move south.

    * Companies move – jobs move. When Xerox relocated out of town, the jobs moved out of town. As companies create new businesses if they create them in a different city the jobs move there too. Maybe if we invested in manufacturing companies like our optics industry the way we do with virtual golf courses – yes I’m looking at you Comida or whomever you call yourselves these days – we might be able to retain the blue collar jobs that sustained Rochester through many decades, instead of changing them all over to minimum wage part time service sector employement as Comida seems bent on doing. Take a check on how many exercise facilities they’ve invested in lately. Do any of those really create a lot of QUALITY jobs?

  4. I just read another article in the Center Square that said NYS lost > 200,000 residents in 2023. What amazes me about these stats is that they are not abstract, I know people who have left , we read constantly read about school enrollment decreasing, business either moving or closing. (RCSD is under SEC investigation for fudging enrollment numbers in their bond prospectus) A bigger dependence on Government employment (ie the taxpayer). Its been going on for years. I talk about it a lot , yet most people around here when you mention it just shrug it off. The Corporate axiom is you either grow or die, well, Western NY “ain’t growing”. Its tragic, the area has many positive attributes , yet careers and a reasonable tax burden doesn’t seem to be one of them. (Where are this year’s round of College grads going to pursue a career here?) It doesn’t help when the Gov says during the last campaign , ‘if you like her opponent, you should move to Florida’. I see a lot of lip service, like then Gov Cuomo declaring gambling a “growth engine” )while avoiding Upstate questions) , hosting more illegal immigrants to grow the population (and trying to locate them upstate) at the same time trying to ban even non-hydraulic fracking (a huge source of potential jobs and revenue) in the southern tier. The only serious attempt at growth is the Federally infused Micron facility near Syracuse. Yet the cynic in me thinks this looks like just a pay off to Unions , with no plan @ SUNY to produce the engineers to make this a success. I rarely if ever , hear a politician that presses a serious growth plan. I’m generally a optimist, but the future does NOT look good for the region.

  5. There is an easy solution to shrinking populations – immigration. Making Rochester a destination city for immigration can add to our shrinking workforce, provide new economic opportunity, add cultural diversity to the region, and change us from a shrinking to a growing city. And yet…. immigrants to Rochester get treated to substandard living conditions, difficulty finding visas and work, rampant racism, and poor education for them and their children. Why would they immigrate here, when there are better opportunities elsewhere. Your paper is the only one that keeps pointing this out and emphasizing that immigration is not bad, but GOOD for any shrinking economy, because shrinking population = shrinking economy. Keep advocating for a better immigration experience in Rochester, so we can return to being not a has-been city but a growing and succeeding city.

      • I believe that many of the people who immigrate here from Central and South America are waiting for immigration courts to hear their asylum cases and either grant them asylum or deport them. But, the entire federal immigration system is broken. Under administrations from both major parties, Congress has failed to address the challenge for decades. It’s not just NY that has to deal with the influx of immigrants with uncertain status; it’s the entire country. We also have immigrants from Afghanistan, other Middle East countries, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Africa seeking a better life. I admire anyone willing to risk everything to get here from despotic regimes. Many people in legal limbo are willing to take jobs that most Americans refuse to do just for a chance at the American Dream. By the way, unless one is a descendant of the First Peoples, we are all immigrants from some point in our past. The great diversity of this nation is what makes us great.

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