1.2 Population

1.2.1 Recent Trends

The region’s long-term downward population trend continued, albeit slowly, in the 1990s, led by continued migration from central cities. From 1990 to 2000, the population of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls MSA declined by fewer than 20,000 people – a change that could be read as a leveling off from the steeper decline in the twenty years previous. Compared with the broader state and national picture, however, these trends were evidence of deep distress 

In the same decade, Erie and Niagara Counties both lost population, at rates of 1.9 percent and 0.4 percent respectively, due mainly to decline in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. At the same time, suburban and outlying areas in each county experienced modest population growth: 2.7 percent in Erie County and 3.4 percent in Niagara County.

The trend of people moving out of the two main cities, meanwhile, continued unabated. By 2000, the population of Buffalo had declined by 35,475 or nearly 11 percent since the previous census. Buffalo's neighbor, Niagara Falls shrank by more than ten percent during the same period, from 61,840 to 55,593. Over the same period, the nation as a whole grew by more than 13 percent and New York State grew by more than five percent – nearly a million people (See Table 1 ).

Table 1 Buffalo Area Population
Jurisdiction 1950 1970 1990 2000
City Of Buffalo 580,132 462,768 328,123 292,648
Remainder of Erie County 319,106 650,723 640,409 657,617
Buffalo-Niagara MSA 1,089,230 1,349,211 1,189,288 1,170,111
New York State 14,830,192 18,241,391 17,990,455 18,976,457
United States 151,325,798 203,302,031 248,709,873 281,421,906
Source: U.S. Census Bureau / OSP Information & Data Analysis

A variety of factors have pushed the continued migration from the city. Some out-migrants seek better schools for their children, including programs in arts, physical education and computer science, and better libraries. Others want to live closer to work now that a higher proportion of regional jobs are located in the suburbs. Still others seek a broader range of choices in housing and neighborhoods. 

The profile of those residents left behind is striking, although several long-term trends seem to have leveled off (see Table 2 ). Measured from the year 1970, however, the trends are dramatic. The percentage of larger households – with five or more people – dropped by about half between 1970 and 2000 while the percentage of one-person households rose by about 50 percent. The proportion of households living in poverty and those with a female head-of-household both rose sharply while the percentage of married family households declined by about half during the same period. None of these trends was reversed during the 1990s, but they each slowed significantly.  

Table 2 City of Buffalo Population and Housing
Categories 1950 1970 1990 2000
Population 580,132 462,768 328,123 292,648
White 542,432 364,367 212,449 159,300
All other races 37,700 98,401 115,674 133,348
Persons under 18 26.00% 30.80% 24.20% 26.30%
Persons 60 and older 13.30% 18.40% 19.40% 17.00%
Total housing units 165,538 166,107 151,970 145,574
Households 164,640 157,951 136,436 122,720
Households 5 or more persons 20.60% 17.00% 8.70% 8.50%
One person households 8.10% 25.60% 35.60% 37.70%
Persons per households 5.2 2.92 2.4 2.38
All families 149,420 112,508 78,245 67,053
Married couple families* 74.00% 54.90% 33.20% 27.60%
Families with female heads*   13.20% 20.20% 22.30%
Poverty**   15.20% 25.60% 26.70%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau / OSP Information & Data Analysis

* Percent of total households

** Percent of all persons

1.2.2 2030 Population Projection

Whether the overall downward trend in Buffalo’s population will continue, level off or be reversed is a matter of informed speculation. Population estimates for 2010 and 2020 prepared by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning based on a straight-line extrapolation of the 1990-2000 trend suggest that the city’s population may continue to decline to 250,000 or lower before growth resumes. 

There is some evidence, however, that the trends of the past have already begun to level off. Moreover, this plan is based on an assumption that the strong interventions it recommends, combined with many policies already being pursued, will help turn around Buffalo’s population trends much sooner. New City of Buffalo efforts to coordinate economic development; target investments in schools, parks, housing and infrastructure; to repair the overall urban fabric all suggest that population growth can be restored in Buffalo even earlier than some projections indicate. 

Likewise, parallel efforts by County, State and federal governments, and by partners in the private sector to improve public service delivery, invest in education, manage land use, reinvest in key infrastructure, redevelop old industrial land and invest private capital in productive enterprises will all help produce a net increase in both jobs and population inside the city. 

All of this supports the population projection on which the Comprehensive Plan is based. It suggests that the decline will have been stopped by no later than 2020 and that population and employment will begin to grow again so that by 2030 the city’s population will have returned at least to its current level and begun to grow again at an annual rate of one percent or better.