Mid-Hudson Valley population continues decline in latest census estimates

The week before last, the federal Census Bureau published updated population estimates for every town, village, city and county in the United States. This annual release, which follows months of data gathering and analysis as part of the American Community Survey, never fails to generate headlines, stories and more analysis. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the updated publication represents for the media — print, social and broadcast alike — what social-media mavens term an evergreen event.

Non-evergreen content falls off the face of the earth as soon as the next shiny thing comes along, as a blogger named Benjamin Brandall put it. Here today, done tomorrow.

By definition, evergreen content doesn’t ever go out of date. The core topic (in this case, the number of residents in each jurisdiction) will always be worth another look.

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The federal government may be the best source of refreshed social information in the world. Its data is in most cases public. The media publish whatever is updated and often ruminate about its meaning.

To be sustainable, evergreen content must be refreshed. It can’t survive indefinitely with no moisture whatsoever. And improving a title, promoting content or removing the publication date — all gimmicks recommended by search engine optimizers — doesn’t constitute sustainable refreshment. Updated data does.

Beyond that initial windfall lies another evergreen opportunity. If one combines new numbers in the public domain with one’s own private or local numbers, even in a formulaic way, the results of that mixup can be proprietary. What a deal. Evergreen content refreshed at governmental expense.

Despite a slightly more positive economic outlook, the middle part of the Hudson Valley hasn’t yet turned around in terms of one of the more important signals of prosperity: the number of people. The new 2016 federal data shows the northern mid-Hudson counties (Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Sullivan and Ulster) all continuing slowly to lose population. Since the last census Ulster County has lost an average 43 residents each month. That probably wouldn’t be happening if the economy were more robust.

The pattern isn’t true to the south of this part of the region. Since 2010, the outer suburban ring of the New York metropolitan area (Putnam, Orange and Suffolk counties) have more or less held their own in terms of population. The inner suburbs (Nassau, Rockland and Westchester have added about 1000 residents per month. The latest figures show that New York City has added a monthly average of 4770 residents to its population in the 76 months between the last federal census on April 1, 2010 and the most recent population estimate for July 31, 2016.

According to the federal estimate, the population loss was not greater in the northern part of Ulster County than in the southern part, which is where most of the county’s previous growth had been concentrated. The data reflects not only the extension of previous trends but also local building permits and school enrollments. Two Ulster County jurisdictions, New Paltz and Ulster, bucked the trend by showing population growth from 2015 to 2016.

There’s a third level of evergreen opportunity: the follow-up.

For people like me, who have spent their professional lives producing content, driving Internet traffic is not an instinctual interest. Though of course I’m interested in what content generates traffic, and why, I’m not interested in traffic per se. I’m interested in how rich verbal content that I think our audience will appreciate can be presented in such a way as to maximize that audience.

Though census data provides one type of window into that world, it’s just the beginning. It’s the job of us journalists to follow up on the stories the annual population estimates suggest. We need to find those young people who have already left the region because there aren’t enough interesting jobs here, to locate the retirees who have left the homes their families have occupied for many generations to move to Florida or to Arizona, and to talk to the couples moving back to the city because they can’t find a local school they want their kids to attend.

After finding and writing and publishing these stories, we journalists should look at the traffic they have generated. Betcha it will be considerable.

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