Turns out the pandemic hasn’t permanently dissuaded people — especially immigrants — from seeking their fortunes amid Manhattan’s bustling streets.
The county that encompasses Manhattan added more than 17,000 residents in the year ending last July after losing almost 111,000 people in the previous 12-month period, according to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The earlier decline was among the worst urban population losses from the COVID-19 outbreak.
New York County was among several large, urban U.S. counties that either gained residents or stemmed the rate of declines between July 2021 and July 2022 compared with a year earlier.
The reversal in population losses was particularly notable in King County, Washington, home to Seattle; as well as in large Sunbelt counties such as Dallas County, Texas; and two South Florida counties, Miami-Dade and Broward. The locations all had something in common: international immigration led the gains.
“I wasn’t expecting this quick of a bounce back for some cities and urban areas. It’s not a full recovery from before the pandemic but moving in the right direction,” demographer William Frey, of the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan policy program, Brookings Metro, said Thursday.
Population change is driven by migration, both within U.S. borders as people move around, and international trends as people arrive from abroad. It also depends on whether births outpace deaths, or vice versa.
Maricopa County, Arizona, home to Phoenix, had the biggest gain of any U.S. county, with almost 57,000 new residents last year. Domestic migration was primarily responsible. Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, followed with more than 45,000 new residents and international arrivals and natural increases propelling that growth; 20,000 residents left. Collin County, a northern suburb of Dallas, ranked third in rising population, with more than 44,000 new residents who primarily came from other U.S. counties.
Los Angeles County, the most populous in the U.S. with 9.7 million people, lost the most residents last year, more than 90,000, as Angelenos moved elsewhere. One bright spot: The loss from domestic migration was 20% less than the previous year. The next biggest population loss was in Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago, and the nation’s second most populous county. That change was also driven by people leaving.
Several San Francisco and San Jose-area counties that saw populations dramatically wane from July 2020 to July 2021 — primarily due to tech workers working remotely — had significantly smaller declines in 2022.
The counties with the biggest influx of international immigration last year were Miami-Dade County, Florida; Harris County, Texas; and Los Angeles County.
Harris County, Los Angeles County and Dallas County had the biggest natural increases. Three Florida counties — Pinellas, Sarasota and Volusia — led the U.S. in natural decreases attributed to deaths outpacing births. Florida’s median age of 42.7 is one of the highest in the nation.
The growth in Manhattan’s New York County was propelled by international migration, and to a lesser extent by domestic migration and births outpacing deaths. It came despite rising Manhattan rents and coincided with many businesses’ partial return to their offices, which ended some opportunities for remote work.
“There was a flood of people coming back into the city once the pandemic started easing up and that pushed rents up,” said Daniel Akerman, a New York real estate agent. “People always want to live in Manhattan.”
All the population estimates rely on birth, death and migration data.
Despite the most recent gains, New York County was still running a population deficit of almost 98,000 residents as of last July when compared with April 2020, when COVID-19 spread quickly across the U.S. and the metropolitan area became an epicenter of the virus, spurring tens of thousands of residents to flee. Surrounding counties continued losing population last year. The three counties encompassing the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens recorded among the biggest population declines in the U.S., with losses ranging from 40,000 to 50,000 residents.
“This is still not really a COVID recovery year. It’s only sort of a recovery,” City University of New York sociology professor emeritus Andrew Beveridge said Thursday. “They haven’t recouped.”
Several New Jersey counties near New York also experienced outflows last year. They included Hudson County, where the COVID-19 omicron variant closed preschools around Christmas 2021 and drove David Polonsky and his family to move temporarily to South Florida, near his parents. The move became permanent in 2022, as the family acclimated to being near relatives and because Polonsky and his wife could work their tech jobs remotely. They sold their home in Jersey City and purchased one in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Polonsky said he misses some things about the New York area, such as being able to walk places instead of driving, and getting a decent slice of pizza instead of mahi mahi, the fish ubiquitous on Florida menus.
“I love mahi mahi as much as the next person,” he said. “But there’s only so much mahi mahi you can eat.”
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