The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated New York City’s population at 8,398,748, as of July 1, 2018. This represented an increase of 223,615 residents (or 2.7 percent) over the April 1, 2010 decennial census count of 8,175,133. Post-2010 growth translates into an average annual gain of about 27,000 persons, or a compounded 0.3 percent. Population growth has been fueled by the continued surplus of births over deaths (partly due to record high life expectancy), which has been partially offset by net outflows from the city.
Each of the city’s five boroughs registered gains in population. The Bronx saw the largest increase, up 3.4 percent, followed by Brooklyn (3.1 percent), Manhattan (2.7 percent), and Queens (2.2 percent); Staten Island showed the smallest gain (1.6 percent) over the 99-month period.
While the city’s population has shown an overall increase, growth varied in the post-2010 period: It was high during the initial years of the decade, slowed subsequently, and has experienced small declines since 2016. While population growth has likely slowed, the Census Bureau’s methodology is not robust enough to precisely quantify the magnitude of these year-to-year changes.
For these new estimates, the Census Bureau revised its estimation methodology, which lowered the number of international migrants coming to New York City. This decline, however, is likely overstated and has lowered total population estimates for the city, which now paint a different picture than the estimates issued just one year ago.
The U.S. Census Bureau prepares estimates of total population for all counties in the United States on an annual basis, using a demographic procedure known as the “administrative records method” (described below). This method assumes that post-census population change can be closely approximated using vital statistics data on births and deaths, along with other administrative and survey data that provide a picture of migration patterns.
According to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, New York City’s population increased from 8,175,133 in April of 2010 to 8,398,748 in July of 2018. This is an increase of about 224,000 residents over the 2010 mark, or 2.7 percent. Among the boroughs, the Bronx saw the largest change in population in this 99-month period, growing by 3.4 percent or 47,000 persons, followed by Brooklyn (3.1 percent or 78,000 persons), Manhattan (2.7 percent or 43,000 persons), and Queens (2.2 percent or 48,000 persons). The lowest growth occurred in Staten Island (1.6 percent or 7,000 persons).
Although the city grew by roughly 224,000 persons since 2010, New York State grew only by 164,000 people due to a population decrease of 60,000 for the counties outside the city. Of the State’s 62 counties, 46 lost population.
Components of Population Change
Demographers divide population change into components. Natural increase represents the difference between births and deaths. Net migration represents the balance between persons entering and leaving an area. Together, these components describe how populations change over time. The U.S. Census Bureau constructs population estimates for all counties in the United States by separately estimating the components of change. Births and deaths are compiled using data from the national vital statistics system. Net migration is a summation of two flows: migration of persons coming in from and leaving for other counties in the 50 states (net domestic migration) and the balance of people who immigrate from and emigrate to other nations and Puerto Rico (net international migration). The net domestic migration rate is derived using income tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service and Medicare enrollment data from the Social Security Administration. It is important to note that the estimation methodology for net international migration has changed significantly, resulting in a revised 2010-2017 international migration estimate that is 31% lower than the previous vintage. While the previous vintage estimated international net migration for the city at 624,000, the latest vintage provides a lower estimate of 431,000 over the same period, which are likely too low. This has resulted in lowered overall population estimates for the city, which now paint a different picture than the estimates issued just one year ago.
New York City has a very dynamic population, with several hundred thousand people coming and going each year. This “churn” has long characterized the city, and represents a fluidity that is difficult to characterize using the net migration measures presented herein. This dynamism is a testament to the city being a magnet for those seeking opportunities, then moving on, only to be replaced by the next set of individuals aspiring for a better life. This very vibrant picture is what makes New York City’s population extraordinary and different from most other places in the nation and, perhaps, the world.
The most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the following for the 2010-2018 period:
a) Positive natural increase—the surplus of births over deaths added 512,000 persons to New York City’s population between April of 2010 and July of 2018.
b) In a return to its customary pattern of migration, New York City experienced a net loss through migration during the 2010-2018 period. This loss totaled 288,000 – the net result of domestic losses (768,000) offset by international gains (480,000).
c) Most of these migration losses were concentrated in Brooklyn (128,000), followed by net migration losses in Queens and the Bronx (81,000 and 50,000, respectively).
New Patterns of Recent Growth: 2017-2018 vs. 2010-2017
While the year-to-year changes provided by the Census Bureau’s population estimates program are tenuous, the chart below shows that growth in New York City was high in the initial part of this decade, slowed subsequently, and has experienced small declines since 2016. While we believe that population growth has slowed, the Census Bureau’s estimation methodology is not robust enough to precisely quantify the magnitude of these year-on-year changes.
While we report year-to-year population change and components of change for the 2017-2018 period, it is important to keep in mind that these are estimates. As noted before, due to the tenuous nature of population estimates, it is necessary to look at longer-term trends, as opposed to short-term changes.
U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Methodology
Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau produces estimates of the population for states, counties, cities and other places, as well as for the nation as a whole. They use data from multiple sources to estimate annual population change since the last decennial census. These population estimates use the 2010 Census counts as a base.
For each county in the U.S., the Census Bureau subtracts the annual number of resident deaths from the annual number of resident births to derive annual growth due to natural increase1. Births are tabulated by residence of the mother, regardless of where the birth occurred. Similarly, deaths are tabulated by the most recent residence of the decedent, not where the death occurred. Birth and death certificates from the National Center for Health Statistics are used as the data source.
Net International Migration is the result of net flows to and from foreign countries and Puerto Rico. These flows are sub-divided into three parts: immigration of the foreign-born, emigration of the foreign- as well as native-born, and net migration between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Until this current set of estimates, data from the American Community Survey “year of entry” or “YOE” question was used to estimate immigration. The YOE question asks, “If you are born abroad, when did you come to the U.S. to live?” For the vintage 2018 estimates, immigration was estimated using the “residence one year ago” or “ROYA” question which asks, “Where did you live one year ago?” According to the Census Bureau, the use of a specific and timely reference point in the ROYA question results in a more accurate picture of immigration to the U.S. But others, such as Jeff Passel2, have argued that while the ROYA question is conceptually cleaner, it understates the level of immigration, which tend to be lower than the YOE estimates across time3.
Finally, the Census Bureau reworked the life tables underlying the estimation of emigration from the U.S., which has also resulted in lower net international migration for the post-2010 period, leading to lower overall population estimates. In general, emigration of the foreign-born is estimated using the residual method. For example, the foreign-born population is aged forward to obtain the expected population in the year 2018. The expected population is then compared to the population estimated in the 2018 ACS. Subtracting the estimated from the expected populations provides the residual, which then serves as the basis of emigration rates for the foreign-born. For the native-born, emigration rates are based on research by Schachter (2008) using data from over 80 countries4. This work compares estimates of U.S. citizens living overseas measured for two consecutive time periods and uses the difference to develop estimates of net native migration.
1The data on births and deaths are generally considered to be the most reliable part of the components of change analysis.
2Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew Research Center, Presentation on “Recent trends in international migration: Alternative methods, data sources and measures”, 2020 Demographic Analysis Program, Technical Workshop U.S. Census Bureau, 2018.
3Renuka Bhaskar, Belkinés Arenas-Germosén, and Christopher Dick, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Demographic Analysis 2010: Sensitivity Analysis of the Foreign-Born Migration Component, 2013
4Schachter, Jason. 2008. “Estimating Native emigration from the United States,” Memorandum dated December 24, delivered to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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