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Demography is Destiny

A shrinking New York…?

A shrinking New York…?

by Marcus Roberts | May 09, 2019

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I have spent only a few days in New York but, even with two small boys in tow, I loved my time there. The people were, all stereotypes aside, friendly and helpful. The taxis were ubiquitous and got me to where I needed to be quickly. The sights were never-ending. It helped that we were staying near Central Park, in the height of summer, and that I had just finished reading Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. All-in-all, I would love to go back to New York one day, perhaps when the children are older and less dependent.

While in the Big Apple I was fascinated to learn about the history of the city and how, in the 1970s, it faced a crisis of high crime and urban flight. During that decade hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers left for other parts of the country. It was hard to imagine the city being that bad when I looked at the bustle and general cleanliness of the Park and East Side Manhattan. Since the 1970s the city’s population has recovered and the gains made in the 1980s and 1990s wiped out the losses of the decade before.

However, according to the New York Times, the city’s “remarkable growth story” may have come to an end. The Census Bureau has estimated that New York’s population declined slightly in 2018 by 40,000 people to a touch under 8.4 million. The loss is the net result of 137,000 New Yorkers leaving for other parts of the USA, natural increase and 49,000 arrivals from overseas.

The New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, is pushing back on this figure, arguing that the new methodology used by the Bureau to reach this yearly estimate has changed. Instead of asking people born abroad when they arrived in the United States, the bureau now asks people where they lived a year ago. According to Dr Salvo, the chief demographer for the Department of City Planning, this new question may have undercounted the net international migration to the city. In short, the year on year estimates by the Census Bureau are questionable.

Of course, no politician wants to preside over a city that is losing population – that is not a good look for any mayor. However, we won’t know for certain the actual changes in New York’s population until the USA’s decennial census is held next year (and even then that might not indicate if the population growth in the earlier part of the decade is being undermined by population decline now).

The Census next year will be very important: it will determine the size of the New York Congressional delegation and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid. It is forecast that the city will lose two seats in the House of Representatives after the 2020 count. I have also seen that New York State may lose an electoral college vote after this count as well. 

Let us hope that the US Census Bureau does a better job than its New Zealand counterpart did last year. Apparently one-in-seven New Zealanders were missed in that shamozzle.

Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography Is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.

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