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NYC’s Population Plummeted During Peak COVID — And It’s Still Likely Shrinking

Recent Census numbers show deaths and move-outs drove a 300,000-person drop through last summer. Even now, more are moving out than in.

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The streets were desolate in Chinatown during the coronavirus outbreak, April 14, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Anyone fighting to find a scarce apartment to rent might think the local population is rebounding two years after COVID drove an exodus out of New York City. But information tracked by the federal government suggests that, while the rate of decline is slowing, more people are continuing to exit or die, than are being born or moving here.

Start with the Census Bureau, which in late March published population estimates that cover the period from April 2020 to June 2021 and found 300,000 fewer people living in New York City than before the pandemic. 

Manhattan accounted for one in three people who left or died — far more than its share of the city’s population.

To come up with that number, government analysts took the 2020 Census count, which found a record 8.8 million people in New York City, and then did some arithmetic — adding births, subtracting deaths (including 40,000 from COVID), and tracking moves from state to state.

The number of births actually exceeded the number of deaths, including from COVID — but so many people moved away that the population shrank substantially.

The result: The Census Bureau now estimates the New York City population at 8.5 million as of July 1, 2021

Movement to other states was the biggest driver of the population loss, along with contributions from COVID deaths and a drop in international migration. 

The Census Bureau followed up last week with more bad news for New York: a recheck of its statewide 2020 Census count estimated it had overcounted New York State’s population by somewhere between 382,000 and 1 million. 

In its analysis of the sobering New York City numbers, the Department of City Planning called the population drain “a result of temporary, pandemic-related phenomena that “are likely to have reversed in the second half of 2021.”

We won’t know for a while if that’s in fact what’s happened. But in the meantime, other federal  government numbers suggest that, at the very least, the exodus out of New York City may have slowed.

THE CITY reviewed change-of-address statistics from the United States Postal Service to assess the patterns in the second half of 2021 and in 2022. The data does not distinguish between people who moved outside of New York City and people who moved within it. But it shows that movement overall has gone back to pre-pandemic rates.

As of April this year, the agency received 30,900 net change of address requests — down significantly from 53,500 in 2021, and closer to the 26,900 in the same period in 2019.

Where are people going? Internal Revenue Service records covering the 2019 and 2020 tax seasons provide some clues. They show that for every two people moving to New York City from outside, five people left the city. 

Just over 380,900 tax filers and their dependents swapped a New York City address in 2019 for one out of state in 2020, the records show. Most who fled New York City went to neighboring suburbs and New Jersey.  

Fairfield County, Conn., Los Angeles, Miami, Palm Beach, Fla., and Philadelphia also saw an influx of New York City folks.

In the same period, the boroughs had 150,800 new taxpayers and their dependents, arriving from the neighboring area and other large metros, notably L.A. and Miami. 

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