Given its decades of population decline, has Chautauqua County finally bottomed out? Or do we need to look at the latest US census figures in a different, more positive way?
Consider the following: In the last century we have seen a population increase of around 12,000 people. However, the most recent number of 127,657 is still about 20,000 below the high 50 years ago in 1970 of 147,305.
Is this the point where we start climbing again? There are reasons to be optimistic.
You don’t need binoculars to see that there is an abundance of job vacancies – many with above-average wages. Another plus in the county, despite what has happened in Dunkirk over the past three days, is the abundance of water. From Lake Erie to Lake Chautauqua and the smaller ones in between, these aren’t just destinations. They are a way of life that you cannot find anywhere in the United States.
Additionally, the city of Buffalo and Erie Counties are finally on an upward trend, with the city growing by 17,000 and the entire county by 35,000.
Growth is always good for neighboring counties.
There’s another reason to be positive: apartment sales haven’t slowed down here over the past year. “If you talk to a real estate agent, they’ll tell you we’re experiencing a real estate boom.” State Senator George Borrello said in a recent interview.
Part of it is because those moving here want a more rural lifestyle – some related to the pandemic and another is a housing market that remains very affordable compared to other areas of the state.
In addition to the loss of 7,248 residents – or 5.4% of our population over a 10-year period – there were other notable trends according to the recently released US census figures. The diversity of our district continues to grow. We are number 31 out of 62 states with a diversity index of 29.9%. More than 83% of the population are white with 9.2% Hispanics or Latinos.
However, our diversity index here lags behind the rest of the United States. The census defines the indicator as the probability that two randomly selected people belong to different races and ethnic groups. This is 61.1% at the national level, compared to 54.9% at the national level. ”
The poverty rates also remain a problem for almost every location. In Dunkirk the rate is one in four. Jamestown is slightly higher with three out of 10 residents. Fredonia has a rate of 24%, with the total district being 16.3%.
Despite these troubling numbers, there is very little evidence that elected officials are tackling the decline. Falling numbers were not an issue during this month’s Legislature session, despite Chautauqua being one of the biggest losers in the population of western New York.
Worse still, there seems to be little discussion of how to resolve the downturn. “This includes several parts” The district executive PJ Wendel said recently in an interview. “There is no silver bullet why people left, and there is also no one that can bring people back. We have to ask ourselves whether we are business-friendly nationwide. “
But that is not the right attitude. Thanks to metropolitan areas such as New York City and Buffalo, New York State grew to more than 20 million inhabitants. What local leaders never like to admit here is that the local tax burden remains far too high as we subsidize all 18 school districts, 27 towns, 13 villages and two towns.
Even in a pandemic when much of the region and some businesses closed or slowed down, many communities have raised taxes without considering the consequences. That hits hardest among the low-income residents and those who are retired.
We also really want to see some fire in our stomach on this topic. Consider a statement in neighboring Warren County, Pennsylvania that lost 7.7% of its population, falling from more than 40,000 to 38,587 in the same 10 years: “To be honest, this is the most important issue that lies ahead of us”, said Warren City Councilman and Vice President John Wortman in August. “It is unacceptable not to try new ideas and guidelines.”
No matter how you cut it, a decade of local decline has begun with the Republican leadership overseeing and reporting many of the shots in our county – the executive and legislative branches. The county’s industrial development agency’s work has been solid over the past two years, but we still need a shared vision from all of our leaders.
One that emphasizes growth.
John D’Agostino is the editor of OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer based in Warren, Pennsylvania. Send comments to [email protected] or call 366-3000, ext. 253.
Latest news and more in your inbox