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.