Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks often about his administration’s efforts to revitalize Buffalo. His recent stop on Buffalo’s East Side was no exception.
"Every number is up. Every arrow is pointed in the right direction," Cuomo said. "It is undeniable. Unemployment is down, jobs are up. Young people coming back. Twenty percent increase in young people coming back to Buffalo after a decade where we lost 10 percent of our young people. So a new energy. Jobs, businesses, growth. … Buffalo is a national urban recovery story."
That's a lot to unpack, and we chose to look at the part about the young people. Is he right? Has there been a 20 percent increase in young people coming back to Buffalo?
Cuomo relied on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for population estimates for people ages 25 to 34. The governor’s spokeswoman pointed to Erie County data from 2010, the year Cuomo was elected, through 2017. The estimated number of people in that age group in Erie County grew by 21 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people in that age group fell by 8.6 percent, according to the data.
Cuomo said Buffalo, but he used data for Erie County.
Buffalo is in Erie County, but separate population statistics are available for Buffalo.
Analysis of Census Bureau data for Buffalo shows an even greater increase. The 25-34 age group increased from 38,051 in 2010 to 49,207 in 2017, a 29 percent increase, according to the U.S. Census and American Community Survey.
We reached out to William Frey, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, which employs experts of different perspectives. Frey has studied the movements of different population groups, including millennials. Frey said "some of this gain" is because the large millennial generation that lived in Buffalo aged into this cohort, not because people returned to the area from elsewhere.
Erie and Niagara counties, according to a January study by the Brookings Institution, reported a negative net domestic migration of those 25 to 34 years old between 2012 and 2017. It is possible that Buffalo attracted some young adult migrants from the rest of the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls metro area, or had gains from immigration from other countries, said Frey, the study's author.
Looking strictly at data for Buffalo, we wanted to see if the 29 percent growth in young people was mainly from people who had aged in place. The age range we're looking at, 25 to 34, would have been ages 18 to 27 in 2010. The 2010 Census breaks out the popularion by age each year. The population of 18- to 27-year-olds in 2010 was 49,734. The population of 25- to 34-year-olds in 2017 was 49,207.
The data suggest "there is quite a bit of aging in place," Frey said. But some of those numbers could reflect domestic out migration countered by a similar immigration from abroad, he said. Showing similar numbers for this cohort does suggest that not many people left, he said.
E.J. McMahon, research director of the conservative Empire Center think tank, also said that while the population of young people increased, it’s unclear how many of those people came back to Buffalo. Some of the gains could be because people stayed, or they could be from refugee resettlement programs, McMahon said.
McMahon, who has tracked New York's population shifts and is a frequent Cuomo critic, said that every community has some people who leave and some who stay, and that is "clearly" what happened in Buffalo.
"On a net basis, Buffalo is doing better with this population segment than it has in the past," he said. "From this, the governor and others weave a story of millennials flocking back to redeveloped inner cities, because they are different from previous generations and don’t live in suburbs. That’s grossly overstated, in my view."
Cuomo said there has been a 20 percent increase in young people "coming back" to Buffalo after a decade when their numbers fell by 10 percent.
Census figures show a 29 percent increase in people ages 25 to 34. In the previous 10 years, the size of that age group fell by 10 percent.
If the governor had just said their numbers grew, he would have been generally correct. He actually understated Buffalo's increase.
But he said they were "coming back." The data he relied on does not prove they came back. In fact, one expert called the claim they were coming to be "grossly overstated." While the number of younger people living in Buffalo increased, the cause could be a large millennial population aging into this age group, not solely because people are returning.
So his statement is partially accurate but makes a sweeping, unproven conclusion. It is unclear how many young people have returned to Buffalo, or settled there after living elsewhere.
We rate Cuomo’s statement Half True.
Transcript of Gov. Andrew Cuomo speech in Buffalo, March 12, 2019, Cuomo online pressroom. Accessed March 22, 2019.
Email conversation, Hazel Crampton-Hayes, spokeswoman, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, March 13, 2019.
Email conversation, E.J. McMahon, research director, Empire Center for Public Policy, March 13, 2019.
Email conversation, William Frey, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, March 14, 2019.
ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Buffalo city, New York. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Age Groups and Sex: 2010, 2010 Census Summary File 1, Buffalo city, Erie County, New York, American FactFinder, U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed March 17, 2019.
Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics, 2000 Census of Population and Housing, New York, Issued May 2001. Accessed March 14, 2019.
"How migration of millennials and seniors has shifted since the Great Recession," William H. Frey, Brookings Institution, Jan. 31, 2019. Accessed March 14, 2019.
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