County continues to lose population

Chautauqua County’s population continues to erode, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Is it taxes? Is it lack of opportunity? Are Chautauqua County residents just not as nice as we think we are? Can we not attract people here because of the weather — a factor that can’t be discounted as winter refuses to relinquish its icy grip?

There are many factors, and they all contribute to the fact the county has lost another 5,859 residents, or 4.34 percent of its population, from the time the 2010 U.S. Census was released through July 1, 2017.

The county’s percentage of residents lost was the sixth-highest percentage of population lost among the state’s 57 non-New York City counties; and only Broome County’s population decrease of 6,961 was more than Chautauqua County’s 5,859.

Twelve counties saw population gains over the past seven years: Rockland (5.51 percent), Saratoga (4.67 percent), Westchester (3.28 percent), Tompkins (3.19 percent), Orange (2.52 percent), Nassau (2.24 percent), Ontario (1.82 percent), Albany (1.78 percent), Erie (0.71 percent), Schenectady (0.54 percent), Monroe (0.44 percent) and Rensselaer (0.18 percent). All 12 counties saw major gains in international migration to make up for either slight declines or modest gains in domestic migration.

The Empire Center for New York State Policy reports that Ontario and Saratoga remain the only New York counties to have experienced positive domestic migration, meaning they attracted more new residents from the rest of the nation, including other New York counties, than they lost.



Compared to some counties, Chautauqua County is seeing fewer births. Chautauqua County is one of 42 counties that reported more births than deaths over the last seven years, though barely. The county averages 1,023.71 births each year and 974.57 deaths for a net natural population gain of about 49.14 people a year. Compare that with neighboring Erie County, which sees 10,372 births and 10,033.57 deaths each year for a net natural population gain of 338.43 people or even Oswego County, which averaged 1,318.57 births a year and 1,096.43 deaths a year for a net natural population gain of 222.14 people a year.

Twenty counties actually saw more deaths than births.

A bigger reason for Chautauqua County’s population loss comes in the migration of people into and out of the area. Internationally, the county saw a 1,517 person net gain in population; conversely, Chautauqua County saw 7,207 more people leave the county than move into the county. That doesn’t include the families who have moved into the Dunkirk and Jamestown areas as a result of devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast states because Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey happened after the Census Bureau ended its work in July. Population estimates released in December 2018 will show any changes in population from Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey.


Do local taxes drive people away? At the county level, one would think not. Chautauqua County has cut property taxes — both through restructuring and increased revenues from the sales tax — from $9.01 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2013 to $8.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2017 yet lost a sizeable chunk of its population.

Many other counties across the state find themselves in the same situation. Of the 46 counties that lost population over the past seven years, 19 have lower county property tax rates in 2017 than they did in 2013 while only 13 averaged a property tax increase of more than 1 percent a year.

Of course, county taxes are only a fraction of the property taxes due each year. New York’s maze of taxing jurisdictions complicates such an analysis, but the major municipal units in many of the counties hardest hit by population losses do have high taxes. In August, the OBSERVER analyzed the total taxes paid on a $100,000 home in each of the county’s various combinations of taxing jurisdictions. Unsurprisingly, given the services they provide, taxes were the most expensive in Jamestown ($5,185 total for county, city and school taxes) and Dunkirk ($4,031 total taxes paid for city, county and school taxes). Jamestown’s total taxes rank fourth of the cities sampled by the OBSERVER behind only Binghamton, Ogdensburg and Norwich. All four of the counties in which Jamestown, Binghamton, Ogdensburg and Norwich reside lost both population and jobs over the past seven years.


A popularly held notion is that Chautauqua County is losing population because it is losing jobs. There may be some truth to that notion. Chautauqua County has lost 1,070 jobs in the seven years from the 2010 Census through July 2017, the sixth-highest total of jobs lost among New York’s counties.

Twenty counties have lost jobs over the past seven years and only one of those counties (Schenectady County) gained population. Of course, a lot of counties have been adding jobs and still losing population; 37 counties have either kept their number of jobs roughly the same or added jobs over the past seven years, but only 10 of them have added residents at the same time.


William Frey wrote a 2015 analysis for the Brookings Institute based on his book, “Diversity Explosion.” In the analysis, Frey wrote that the United States’ white population was barely growing and, in about 2025, will begin to decline as old age, fewer births, more deaths and little immigration. Sound familiar? Frey noted that, in 2015, white population losses were registered for 15 states, nearly half of 360 metropolitan areas and more than half of the nation’s 3,100 counties.

“States losing white population fall into two categories: those in which employment slowdowns have triggered major out-migration (e.g., Michigan, Ohio), and urbanized coastal states with high costs of living (e.g., California, New York, New Jersey),” Frey wrote. “In fact, metropolitan New York and Los Angeles lost over 1 million whites each between 1990 and 2010. The areas that are gaining whites overlap heavily with those that are attracting dispersing minorities — prosperous and affordable parts of the Southeast, Southwest, and Mountain West-including suburbs, exurbs, and smaller metropolitan areas. But it’s pretty clear that, going forward, the nation’s white population shifts will be a “zero-sum” game: As some areas experience greater white population gains, others will suffer losses.”

That analysis should be a gut punch to Chautauqua County since it falls inside the first category as a jobs loser and is located in the second category of states with high costs of living, even though the county costs are fairly low. Though the white population shifts are largely a zero-sum game, it also is bad news for the county since it isn’t generating enough local population growth to sustain itself and ranks in the middle of the pack in attracting foreign-born immigrants. That should trouble area policy makers who find themselves in the unenviable position of making decisions for a population that seems poised to continue decreasing for some time while the cost of providing services will keep increasing.