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Census reveals continuing county exodus

Population estimates released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau show Chautauqua County’s population continuing to decline.

The county had 124,891 people in 2023, down from the 125,344 estimated for 2022.

The largest municipality, the city of Jamestown, dropped to 27,965 in 2023, from 28,102 the prior year. The next largest, the city of Dunkirk, was at 12,442 people in 2023, as opposed to 12,503 in 2022.

The biggest village, Fredonia, came in at 9,455 people in 2023, down from 9,490 in 2022. Lakewood (2,948 people, down nine) and Westfield (2,920, down 12) are the second- and third-largest villages.

Just one village showed growth: Mayville, the county seat. And that was by just two people: The 2023 population estimate was 1,457, with the 2022 number 1,455.

According to the Census Bureau, it “develops population estimates by using updated housing unit estimates to distribute county household population to subcounty areas based on the average household population per housing unit. An estimate of the population in group quarters is added to that to obtain the total resident population.”

Chautauqua County actually increased its housing stock in 2023, by the Census Bureau’s estimate. It had 66,465 housing units in 2023, up from 66,399 in 2022.

Overall, the Census Bureau noted that while 39% of the country’s population lived in cities of 50,000 or more, the United States remained a nation of mostly smaller communities. Of approximately 19,500 incorporated places, about 75% had fewer than 5,000 people in 2023 and nearly 33% had fewer than 500.

On average, these small towns experienced uneven population change across the U.S. regions. In particular, small towns in the Midwest and Northeast experienced lower rates of decline in 2023, decreasing by an average of 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively, compared to 0.4% and 0.2%, respectively, in 2022.

Additionally, cities with populations of 50,000 or more grew by an average of 0.2% in the Northeast and 0.1% in the Midwest after declining an average of 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, in 2022. Those in the West went up by an average of 0.2% from 2022 to 2023. Cities in the South grew the fastest – by an average 1.0%.

“The population growth across the South in 2023 was driven by significant numeric and percentage gains among its cities,” said Crystal Delbe, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Population Division. “Thirteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities were in the South, with eight in Texas alone.”

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