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• Census data shows that New York’s population declined by 1.58% between July 2020 and July 2021, which is the latest population estimate available. That was the largest percentage loss of any state during that period.
Lee Zeldin, a Republican U.S. House member who is running for governor of New York, criticized longstanding Democratic control of state government in an April 12 tweet. Poor quality of life in the Empire state, Zeldin charged, has led the state’s population to decline.
"New York leads the U.S. in population loss, because residents aren’t feeling safe on the streets and subways, they feel suffocated by heavy-handed government action, it doesn’t make sense economically to remain here, and opportunity for a better life is presenting itself elsewhere," Zeldin tweeted.
In this fact-check, we’ll focus on Zeldin’s premise that "New York leads the U.S. in population loss." (We can’t fact-check how people feel or determine their internal reasons for leaving.) Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that New York did lead the states in lost population between July 2020 and July 2021, although the losses were not as steep between the full decennial censuses of 2010 and 2020.
When we contacted Zeldin’s office, a spokesperson cited an article from December 2021 in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that summarized newly released Census data.
According to data released by the bureau in December 2021, New York dropped below 20 million people between July 2020 and July 2021, decreasing from 20.15 million to 19.84 million.
That’s a decline of 1.58%, which was the largest percentage loss for any state during that period. (New York also had the largest loss in raw numbers — 319,000 — although statisticians usually prefer to compare states by percentage losses, because some states, like New York, are much larger to start with.)
Sixteen other states lost population during that yearlong period. The states with losses closest to New York were Illinois, with a decline of 0.89%; Hawaii, with a decline of 0.71%; California, with a decline of 0.66%; and Louisiana, with a decline of 0.58%.
An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent think tank, found that New York’s losses were "primarily because many residents left New York for other states."
An analysis by the New York-focused Empire Center, another think tank, said the scale of departures during this period "shattered all out-migration records, exceeding New York’s record annual migration losses during the late 1970s."
An additional factor was a decline in immigration from outside the United States, due in part to travel controls during the coronavirus pandemic. Net foreign immigration to New York decreased during the one-year period to just 18,860 people, which the Empire Center said was the smallest number in at least 60 years.
The coronavirus pandemic also increased the number of deaths in New York, although there were enough births in the state to exceed deaths of all causes by 18,503.
The data showing the change in population between July 2020 and July 2021 is based on estimates rather than the full-scale census count that is conducted every 10 years. And the data on population change between the last two censuses, 2010 and 2020, show that New York was not quite so cursed on the population front over that longer period.
On average during that decade, New York’s population grew by 0.42% per year, rather than shrinking. That was a bit below the 50-state median; New York had the 32nd fastest growth rate during that period. Only three states lost population during that decade: Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia.
Zeldin tweeted, "New York leads the U.S. in population loss."
He’s right on the numbers. Census data shows that New York’s population declined by 1.58% between July 2020 and July 2021, the latest population estimate available. That was the largest percentage loss of any state during that period.
We rate the statement True.
Lee Zeldin, tweet, April 12, 2022
U.S. Census Bureau, "New Vintage 2021 Population Estimates Available for the Nation, States and Puerto Rico," Dec. 21, 2021
U.S. Census Bureau, "Over Two-Thirds of the Nation’s Counties Had Natural Decrease in 2021", March 24, 2022
Pew Charitable Trusts, "Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis," April 25, 2022
Pew Charitable Trusts, "A third of states lost population in 2021," April 25, 2022
Empire Center, "Pandemic drove largest New York population loss ever," Dec. 1, 2021
U.S. News & World Report, "Report: A third of states lost population in 2021," April 27, 2022
Daily Gazette, "Census Bureau: N.Y. population loss greatest in nation," Dec. 23, 2021
Democrat & Chronicle, "A Small Empire State: New York continues to lead nation in population decline," Dec. 21, 2021
Email Interview with Peter Warren, director of research at the Empire Center, May 2, 2022
Email Interview with Michael Killian, executive editor of the Democrat & Chronicle, May 3, 2022
Email Interview with Katie Vincentz, spokesperson for Lee Zeldin, May 2, 2022
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