Metropolitan and Micropolitan New York State: Population Change and Race-Ethnic Diversity 2000-2010

Nancy Denton, Samantha Friedman and Nicole D'Anna

The population of New York State is dynamic and growing. According to the PL 94-171 Redistricting data from the 2010 Census, the apportionment population of New York State is 19,378,102. While that is an increase of 2.1 percent since 2000 and almost 8 percent since 1990, New York still lost two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives because other states gained more residents ( New York's population increase was well below the 9.7 percent increase for the country as a whole, but greater than that in Michigan (-0.6%), Rhode Island (0.4%), Louisiana (1.4%) and Ohio (1.6%). It was also the lowest of all the bordering states: Vermont (2.8%), Massachusetts (3.1%), Connecticut (4.9%), New Jersey (4.5%), and Pennsylvania (3.4%)2.

But how changes in the population are distributed across the state is less well known. While many people might suspect (correctly) that it is the downstate population that is growing the fastest, that does not necessarily mean that the upstate population is not changing at all. But how is it changing? Is the diversity of the population by race and ethnicity growing throughout the state, or only in the greater New York City area? This report will document population changes for the state as a whole, as well as for upstate and downstate, and also examine the diversity of the population.

In addition, the report will look at population changes for the Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas in the state. These areas are shown on the maps accompanying this report and will be defined in more detail below. The focus on these areas is important because these are new core-based definitions with which many people are unfamiliar. Because all of the data from the Census Bureau are now being released in these new geographic boundaries, including data from the 2010 Census, one of the main goals of this report is to facilitate people's understanding of them. Another major change that has occurred in the release of population data from the Census Bureau is that the long form of the decennial census has been replaced by the American Community Survey (ACS), which is released annually and is available for many areas of the state from here on out. So we will provide a brief overview of how ACS data are released and for which areas below.

Examining population change in New York State is important for a number of reasons: first, the residents of the state are interested in how their overall population is changing, as well as whether it is increasing or decreasing in racial and ethnic diversity. Second, New York State is one of the main gateway states for post-1965 immigrants. While most of these immigrants go to New York City and its surrounding communities, some also go to the other areas of the state, either as a secondary move or as a place of initial settlement. Knowing how immigrants and other racial minorities are dispersing across places that are "gateway states but not gateway cities" is important for our understanding of the process of population change in the nation as a whole, as well as in other gateway states such as California, Illinois, Florida and Texas. Though we will not focus on immigrants in this report, changes in racial/ethnic groups are very often linked to immigration. Third, an understanding of the geography that will be used to analyze the state's data in the coming years is important to policy makers and citizens alike.

Upstate versus Downstate

If asked, residents of New York State would no doubt differ on exactly where downstate ends and upstate begins. It definitely does not include New York City or Long Island. But while most people know that Westchester County is not part of New York City, they would still associate it more with “the city” than with upstate New York. For purposes of this report, distinguishing between upstate and downstate requires a precise definition. Using counties as the building blocks, we have chosen to include all but 10 of the 62 counties in the state as upstate New York (see Map 1, below).

  • Upstate is the area north of New York City and its immediate suburban neighbors.
  • This definition eliminates New York City and its closest Northern suburban counties (Westchester, Rockland and Putnam), plus the two counties on Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk. Westchester shares a border with the Bronx, and the other two counties border Westchester. Admittedly, one could make a case for including Putnam in upstate but it is not part of any MSA or Micropolitan area other than the one that includes New York City.
  • Of the 62 counties in the state, 52 are in upstate according to this definition.

Map 1 - Upstate County Map and Downstate County Map

County Map

Downstate of New York

Because the counties included in the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area are all classified as metropolitan, upstate includes all the Micropolitan Counties of New York State, as well as a number of Metropolitan areas. In the past, two upstate Metropolitan areas were part of the larger New York Consolidated Metropolitan Region: Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown (Dutchess and Orange Counties) and Kingston (Ulster County) but that is no longer the case. While at one time they technically met the criteria for inclusion within the New York metropolitan area, they include substantial numbers of people who have very limited connections to New York City in terms of occupations or history. Having defined upstate and downstate counties, we turn now to a discussion of the Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas in the state.

Changing Metropolitan Terminology

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establishes the definitions of various statistical areas for the collection of federal data under a uniform set of geographic areas. The terms “Metropolitan Statistical Area” and “Micropolitan Statistical Area” are used to define the basic groups of counties under the OMB rules. Any combination of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas can form Combined Statistical Areas. In addition, in a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population core of 2.5 million or more, counties can be grouped into “Metropolitan Divisions.” These are most comparable to the “Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas” used in past terminology. The terms “Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area” (CMSA) and “Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area” (PMSA) are no longer used. A quick guide to these concepts is located here3.

Metropolitan and Micropolitan Definitions

While the building blocks of Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas are counties, the definition of them starts with specific cities or places. The fundamental difference between Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas is one of size: Metropolitan areas need at least one city of 50,000 or more, while the corresponding requirement for Micropolitan areas is a place of 10,000-49,999. For an area to have multiple counties requires either multiple core cities or labor market integration as measured by commuting patterns. All of the core-based Metropolitan areas of New York State are shown in Map 2, and the Micropolitan areas in can be identified in Map 3. Move the cursor over the map to display county names in interactive maps below. There are 12 Metropolitan Areas and 15 Micropolitan Areas. Lists, including county codes, as well as the Combined Definitions, can be found here.

Map 2 - Metropolitan County Map


Map 3 - Micropolitan County Map


It is interesting that only 11 of the 62 counties in the state are not included in either a Metropolitan or Micropolitan area. Together, these counties (listed from West to East and highlighted in Map 4, below)-Wyoming, Allegheny, Yates, Schuyler, Cnango, Lewis, Delaware, Sullivan, Hamilton, Greene, and Essex-are home to just over 400,000 people, about 2% of the state population and 6% of upstate population according to the 2010 PL 94-171 Redistricting data. Definitive counts for all areas of the state will be available once the Summary File 1 data are released from Census 2010 this summer.

Map 4 - Neither Metropolitan nor Micropolitan County Map

A Brief Note on Census 2010 versus American Community Survey (ACS) Data

Though this brief overview does not use ACS data, it is worth mentioning that with the advent of the ACS, the Census has greatly changed. For those familiar with previous censuses, what used to be called the "long form" has now been replaced by the ACS. So the 2010 Census data releases will be limited to a very few variables and to the files known as Summary File 1 and Summary File 2. Billed as the shortest Census ever, 10 questions in 10 minutes, the topics are household size, type of housing unit and ownership, sex, age, Hispanic origin, and Race(s) of each person. To explore the 2010 Census form, go to All the other data will come from the ACS, including information on Aging, Disability, Education, Employment, Income, Language, Origins, Poverty, more detailed Race and Ethnicity, Household Relationships, and Veterans, as well as the Physical and Financial Characteristics of Housing.

The importance of this change cannot be overstated. First, new ACS data is available every year, with releases from August through December. Second, annual data is only available for geographical units of 65,000 or more. Third, for smaller units (25,000-65,000) data is released every three years. For the smallest units (less than 25,000) the data are released every five years. Fourth, these multiple-year data sets are cumulations of the multiple years: e.g. the ACS 2007-2009 data contains data for 2007, 2008, and 2009. But the 2007 and 2008 data were also included in the ACS 2006-2008 data so there is substantial overlap across years. Basically there are two years of overlap for the three year data and four years of overlap for the five year data. For this reason, all data being analyzed should come from the same data set. This presents researchers with a choice: use the most cumulated data which will be available for the most places, but the most out of date, or use the most recent data which will be available only for geographic units of 65,000 or more. And fifth, the fact that the ACS is a sample is much more obvious to the data user as the Census Bureau is providing margins of error (MOE) with each estimate. More information about ACS and access to the data can be found here:

Upstate vs. Downstate and Population Diversity

Overall, 36% of the state’s residents live in upstate, and the remaining two-thirds live downstate. The relative sizes of the upstate and downstate populations have been shifting in favor of downstate since 1990, albeit only slightly: at about 1.5 percent 1990-2000, and a mere 0.2 percent since then. Still, the numerical balance decidedly favors downstate, so statistics for the state as a whole also tend to reflect downstate more than upstate. But in a state as large as New York, one third of the population is 7,009,577 people, hardly an insignificant number. Were upstate New York a state, it would rank thirteenth among the states, with 38 states having fewer residents. The only states that have larger populations than upstate New York are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and of course the entire New York State.

In terms of race and ethnicity, in 2010, 58.4 percent of New York State residents are non-Hispanic whites, as seen in Chart 1. Non-Hispanic blacks comprise almost 15 percent, and Hispanics almost 18 percent. Asians represent just over 7 percent of the total population, and the population of Native Americans is less than one percent. Both the white and black populations have been declining as a proportion of the total state population from 1990 to 2010, at the same time, the Asian and Hispanic population has been increasing. The other major historical population group in New York State, Native Americans, has remained stable.4

Chart 2 shows the racial and ethnic composition of upstate (see Table A1 in Appendix for further detail and downstate figures). It is clear at first glance that downstate is much, much more racially and ethnically diverse than upstate, and that diversity has grown over time both upstate and downstate. In 2010 nearly 83 percent of upstate residents are non-Hispanic white, just over 7 percent are non-Hispanic black, 5.3 percent are Hispanic, 2.2 percent are Asian, and Native Americans do not even constitute a percent of the upstate population. In contrast, downstate is 44 percent non-Hispanic white, one quarter Hispanic, almost 20 percent non-Hispanic black and almost 10 percent Asian. At the same time, changes in racial and ethnic diversity have been prominent in recent years in upstate: the upstate Hispanic population is over 2.4 times larger in 2010 than in 1990, and the upstate Asian population doubled as well. So though they currently do not represent large shares of the upstate population, the Hispanic and Asian populations are increasing rapidly.

About half of the non-Hispanic white population resides upstate. While this has remained stable at about 52 percent, the percent of the populations of the other groups that live upstate have increased. Almost 19 percent of non-Hispanic blacks, 11 percent of Asians, and 11 percent of Hispanics now live upstate. Native Americans, who number less than 50,000 in New York State, are slightly more likely to live upstate (56 %) than downstate (see Table A2 in Appendix for more detail).

Diversity in Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas
Table 1 shows the total populations of the 12 Metropolitan Statistical Areas and the 15 Micropolitan Statistical Areas in New York State. Focusing on those in upstate, Buffalo-Niagara Falls and Rochester are the largest, each home to over a million people, followed closely by Albany-Schenectady-Troy with over 870,000. Syracuse and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown each have over 660,000 residents, with the smallest MSA, Elmira, at almost 90,000. Because these areas are delimited in terms of the population of a city, but then the building blocks are counties, four of the Micropolitan Areas—Corning, Jamestown, Ogdensburg-Massena and Watertown-Ft. Drum—have larger populations than the smallest Metropolitan Area. Among the Micropolitan areas, Seneca Falls is the smallest, with just over 35,000 people, while Amsterdam is just over 50,000 and Cortland is just under 50,000.

In terms of population change since 2000, for most Metropolitan or Micropolitan areas the pattern is one of small losses or small gains, as can be seen in Table 1. However, a few places stand out. Albany-Schenectady-Troy gained almost 45,000 people and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown gained almost 49,000, while Buffalo-Niagara Falls lost almost 35,000. The Rochester MSA gained over 16,000 people, and Syracuse gained over 12,000. All of the other population changes are less than 10,000, and many are less than half that or less. Other than Buffalo-Niagara Falls, only three Metropolitan areas lost population: Elmira MSA lost over 2,000 people, Binghamton MSA lost almost 600 people and Utica-Rome lost 499 people.

In terms of growth rates, the places that grew the most during the last decade were Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown MSA (7.8%), followed by Albany-Schenectady-Troy MSA (5.4%) and the Ithaca MSA (5.2%). Overall, the state increased by 2.1 percent, so seven of the Metropolitan areas but only three of the Micropolitan areas increased by more than that amount, demonstrating that there was more population growth in the larger places, The declines in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls and Elmira MSAs were 3 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. Among the Micropolitan areas, Seneca Falls grew by 5.7 percent, Watertown-Ft. Drum by 4.0 percent, and Plattsburgh by 2.8 percent. Olean lost 4.3 percent, and Jamestown 3.5 percent. In general, population change in the Micropolitan areas was more modest than in the Metropolitan areas. So the overall pattern for upstate is one of population growth rather than decline.

Diversity, however, is a different matter, as shown in Table 2. The Metropolitan and Micropolitan areas of upstate New York remain overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white, in sharp contrast to the New York MSA, which is less than half white. In fact, all the upstate Metropolitan Areas are close to 80 percent non-Hispanic white with the exception of Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown which is 71 percent non-Hispanic white. One, Glens Falls, is 94% non-Hispanic white while Binghamton, Elmira, and Utica-Rome are just under 90% non-Hispanic white. The Micropolitan areas are even less diverse: ten of them are over 90 percent white. The least diverse area is the Corning Micropolitan area which is over 94 percent white.

In terms of change, all the areas, both Metropolitan and Micropolitan, saw the percent of their population that was white decrease (see Table 3, above). The decreases range from 7.8 percentage points in Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown Metropolitan area to 1.1 percentage points in Glens Falls. Among the Micropolitan areas the declines were more modest, ranging from 5.7 percentage points in the Amsterdam Micropolitan area to about .83 percentage points in Malone. Change in the non-Hispanic black population was generally positive, but modest. Non-Hispanic black growth was only greater than one percent in Albany-Schenectady-Troy, Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, and Syracuse among the Metropolitan areas. It was less than one percent in all the Micropolitan areas save Seneca Falls, where the non-Hispanic black population grew by 2 percentage points. Given the relative size of the non-Hispanic white population, while the numbers of Hispanics and Asians grew substantially in almost all these places, they still remain very small components of the total population. The largest change in percent Asian occurs in the Utica-Rome Metropolitan area (1.3 points), and the changes in percent Asian never exceed one percentage point among the Micropolitan areas. Hispanics shares of the population are larger, but still they increase only 5.4 percentage points in Poughkeepsie and 2.6 percentage points in Kingston among the Metropolitan areas, and 4.3 percentage points in Amsterdam among the Micropolitan areas.

But the potential for change can be seen in the growth rates of these populations, as seen in Chart 3 and Chart 4, below. Though the very large numbers, especially those greater than 100, are in large part a function of the small populations from which the places were starting, the potential for growth is obvious. We look first at the Metropolitan areas that began the decade with more than 10,000 Asians, such as the Albany-Schenectady-Troy and Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metropolitan areas. They saw their Asian populations grow by 75 percent or more, thus approaching doubling in only a decade. Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown and Syracuse saw theirs increase by 50 percent, and Rochester's Asian population increased by one third. (See Table A3 in Appendix for complete corresponding data on all of NYS.)

Increases in the Hispanic population were sometimes similar to those just reported for the Asian population, but other times not. Again looking at MSAs that had at least 10,000 Hispanics in 2000, Albany-Schenectady-Troy saw a 78 percent increase in its Hispanic population, comparable to the increase in the Asian population. But Buffalo-Niagara Falls only saw its Hispanic population grow by just under 40 percent, less than half the growth rate among its Asian population. Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown and Syracuse, on the other hand, saw their Hispanic populations increase by more than 70 percent, compared to their 50 percent increase in their Asian population. Kingston was another MSA that had at least 10,000 Hispanics in 2000 and saw an increase in that population by 47 percent over the decade.

We now turn to the Micropolitan areas, as shown in Chart 4. Similarly high rates of change of about 50 percent in the Asian population occurred in the Corning and Ogdensburg-Massena Micropolitan areas, each of which ended the decade with over one thousand Asians, as did Watertown-Ft. Drum though their growth rate was only 25 percent. For Hispanics, Amsterdam, Jamestown and Watertown-Ft. Drum began with the largest Hispanic populations in 2000, ranging from over three to just under six thousand, and the population of Hispanics increased there by 64, 41, and 37 percent respectively. In Amsterdam, however, the Asian population changed only 1.4 percent, while in the other two places the change in the Hispanic population was comparable to that in the Asian population.

Looking to the Future

Clearly future population changes in upstate New York are going to be driven by increases in the Hispanic and Asian populations, combined with declines in the non-Hispanic white population. These populations are of very different ages, something we will explore in future reports. That will affect not only their growth potential, but also their needs and the contributions they may make. The changes reported here suggest questions for further inquiry: why has Buffalo lost population while places like Albany and Poughkeepsie have grown? Why does Amsterdam attract Hispanics in large numbers but not Asians? What are the roles of the SUNY educational system and prisons in upstate New York in causing the population to have maintained fairly steady over the decade? What is the role of the military in the diversity of the population in the Micropolitan areas in the far north of the state? Since the Census Bureau will be releasing annual data, it will be interesting to follow these and other changes in future reports.


1For more information about the PL 94-171 Redistricting Data see

2Population Distribution and Change 2000 to 2010. 2010 Census Briefs. Issued March 2011.

3More information about the definitions of these areas can be found in the December 2009 OMB Bulletin 10-02:

4The complete race/ethnic distribution of the population would include three more non-Hispanic race groups:  NHOPI (Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders), SOR (Some Other Race) and TWOplus (Persons who reported two or more races).  In 2010 there were 412,974 people in these groups combined, representing 0.03, 0.42 and 1.68 percent of the total state population respectively.  About one third of the NHOPs and just over one third of the TWOplus persons lived upstate, as did 14 percent of those who identified as SOR.