The recent release of data from the 2010 Census offers a spotlight with which to focus on who actually lives in our region. While the total census count determines the state by state breakdown of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives — as set forth in the Constitution — the census data offers lots of useful demographic information about the population of our region. The data and the trends — such as age breakdown, race/ethnicity, growth rate and population shifts — can help leaders, educators, planners, philanthropists and other stakeholders better understand this particular moment in time in the Hudson Valley and, in turn, better address the public needs.
This census data complements another excellent source of information about our hot topic region. Hot, as evidenced by not one, but two New York Times articles in the past week that tout the region. This source is the data-rich website Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles launched earlier this year by three Hudson Valley foundations: Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, Dyson Foundation and United Way of Dutchess County. The statewide statistics, they point out, do not include NYC in the mix.
So what do we look like, in demographic terms, here in the mid-Hudson Valley? We are a growing, but graying region that is more diverse than we were a decade ago, but still
predominately white. We have more children living in poverty than a decade ago while household median incomes have increased 3%, slightly higher than the rest of the state. Job growth has exceed the rest of the state and nation, but we’ve seen a decline in tourist dollars the last few years with less revenue from tourism per resident than the rest of the state.
The mid-Hudson Valley was, in fact, the fastest growing region in the state over the last decade. While the state saw a 2.1 % population increase, the mid-Hudson region reported 7 %. Of all the counties in the state, Orange County ranked second, Rockland ranked third and Dutchess ranked fifth in population growth rate. That growth has in part resulted in more ethnic diversity. Following a national trend, the region has seen a 56% increase in people of Hispanic origin and 51 % growth in the Asian population. Orange County has seen the greatest change in the last decade, but Dutchess County now reports that 10.5 % of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin and 3.5% is Asian race. In fact, a recent Dutchess County Planning Federation newsletter reflecting on the recent census figures reports, “The only race category that showed a decrease in percentage of growth for Dutchess County was White Alone, which decreased by 3.6%.”
The mid-Hudson region is also aging at a faster rate than the rest of the country. Despite our “hotness,” Orange was the only county to experience population growth in all age groups. In the vital 20 to 39 age group, Dutchess County lost 8.7% and Ulster dropped 6.7%. Of Dutchess County’s 13 school districts, only Pawling, showed an increase in school age children in the last 10 years. The others saw a drop of between 1.4% to 17% in the under 18 population.
One of the more unsettling facts, I found, is the Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles site’s measure of community involvement. This is a region that has long prided itself on sense of community. “Community engagement is the extent to which individuals take responsibility for addressing civic issues and improving the life of their community, explains the Regional Overview section. However, looking at both philanthropic engagement and voter turnout as a measures of community involvement, the mid-Hudson Valley comes up short.
“The region consistently lags behind both the state and the nation in average annual charitable gifts.” And both voter registration and voter turnout rates continue to be lower than the rest of the state. “Although voter turnout in Ulster was higher than statewide turnout, Dutchess and Orange have remained below state levels since 2000.” Surely we can do better!