Collapse of the Empire State

New York’s presence once loomed so large over America that it crowned itself the Empire State. Today, New York has fallen behind California and Texas in population and is in danger of dropping behind Florida. As its influence ebbs, the Empire State is losing electoral clout as an unprecedented rate.

According to Census Bureau estimates released in December, New York State has grown at such as sluggish rate relative to the rest of the nation that it is due to forfeit two congressional seats after the 2010 reapportionment. It would mark the seventh consecutive Census in which New York has given up seats.

“Reapportionment is carnage time for New York: the state lost five districts in the 1980 Census, another three in 1990 and two more in 2000,” according to the Almanac of American Politics. Almanac author Michael Barone predicted in a National Journal article in July that at least one district Upstate will be eliminated.

If Upstate looses another representative to Congress (or two for that matter), it would be consistent with an ongoing trend. Upstate is scared by ghost towns from Schenectady to Syracuse and beyond. If you ever want to see a vision of America in the 1960’s, visit Utica. It is as if everyone in that once bustling, medium-sized city lost their jobs one day and then got up and left. And its been frozen in time since. No one has invested anything.

GE employed 40,000 people in Schenectady in 1950. Today, it employs 3,000. Kodak, based in Rochester, cut 30,000 jobs in the last three years. Carrier, the crown jewel of Syracuse and the namesake of the Orangemen’s CarrierDome, shut down its air conditioning plant in 2004.

The loss of manufacturing jobs isn’t unique to Upstate New York. Cities across the Rust Belt, or what Joel Garreau calls “The Foundry” (America’s industrial region), are suffering. But Upstate is uniquely burdened with a tax system that funnels money to New York City and doesn’t circulate enough back.

Couple New York’s suppressive tax system with wintry weather, and it’s understandable why the region is experiencing sluggish to negative growth. And it’s a snowball effect: as jobs leave, people emigrate, the tax base shrinks and school systems decay. The Almanac says New York is experiencing an “unprecedented hemorrhaging of talent and productivity.”

A New York Sun article from Thursday noted that the Census Bureau estimates that New York is the eighth-slowest growing state. In fact, only two states declined in population from 2000 to 2006: New York and North Dakota, which National Geographic describes in its January 2008 issue as a prairie state “littered with dead towns.”

New York State grew 32 percent between 1940 and 1965, but only another two percent from 1965 to 1997. In the same period, California surged 74 percent and Texas bulged by 84 percent. Which brings us back to representation in Congress. Texas is slated to gain another four seats, bringing its delegation to 36. California already commands 55. Florida will have 27 seats, the same as New York.

When New York was in its heyday, Franklin D. Roosevelt would welcome throngs of guests to his estate in the Hudson River Valley. It was an age when radio reigned and the three biggest sports in America were boxing, baseball and horse racing. Florida was building its first railroad to the area that would become Miami and Henry Flagler was luring the first waves of what would become millions of New Yorkers down to Palm Beach.

Today, boxing and horse racing are afterthoughts in American sports, but their halls of fame are fittingly located in Upstate New York (along with baseball’s hall). Roosevelt’s Hyde Park mansion is a museum. Meanwhile, Florida is host to the major sports events of today such as the Daytona 500, which attracts upwards of 20 million viewers, and the Super Bowl, which is regularly held in Miami or Jacksonville.

New York will always command a special place in America’s identity, symbolized by the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, The New York Times, Broadway and the Yankees’ pin stripes. But those institutions were founded long ago. The state that once declared itself the epicenter of an Empire is no more.

Congressional Representation of the Four Largest States
Congressional Represenation of the Four Largest States

New York Congressional Districts
New York Congressional Districts

New York Times’ United States of Florida
United States of Florida

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3 responses to “Collapse of the Empire State

  1. Bill in Schenectady

    I dispute the notion that all growth is good. California is facing major environmental problems, particularly with water. Florida’s growth has choked roads and led to school systems that simply can’t keep up. New York has its problems indeed. As does every state. However, as an upstate NY resident, I love the fact that I was able to purchase a beautiful 100 year old home in Schenectady for less than a fourth of what the same sized home would cost in much of California or Florida or even in the larger Northeastern cities’ suburbs. The unemployment rate in Schenecatdy County is low, in part because after the decline of G.E., the economy diversified and in part because Schenectady is part of the economically healthy Capital region, which has experienced a great deal of high tech job growth lately to replace much of the lost manufacturing sector.

    New York State also has a great deal of fertile farmland which will be needed when California can no longer supply the world with produce due to its unsustainable agricultural practices. New York offers plenty of water, which will soon become one of the nation’s most sought after commodities, for industry as well as agriculture.

    I’m glad we don’t have a boom economy. We have a beautiful state that has many areas not yet spoiled by Sun Belt style sprawl. Upstate areas west of Schenectady do have problems. Yet I’m confident that they will stabilize as other parts of the country outstrip their ability to sustain growth. And you know what: stability is what we need, not out of control growth. With a stable economy, the infrastructure can be maintained, schools can be supported, and much needed open space can be preserved.

  2. But Upstate is uniquely burdened with a tax system that funnels money to New York City and doesn’t circulate enough back.

    I think that you are guilty of perpetuating an urban legend. Check out the Center for Governmental Research (www.cgr.org) which has done several studies which, the latest, using 2004-2005 NYS revenue/expenditure data, ” confirmed the conclusion of an earlier CGR analysis that New York City is a large net contributor to the state, as are the NYC suburbs. Upstate New York is a net recipient of funds.”

    NYC is the economic and fiscal engine of NYS. NYC subsidizes upstate New York, not the other way around.

  3. Pingback: Texas Demographic Primer: Who Will Jerry Jones Vote For? « The Electoral Map

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