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Population decline puts region in 47th place; Only 4 U.S. metro areas lost more people

Few major metropolitan areas in the United States lost more population than the Buffalo Niagara region did during the decade of the 2000s.

The population decline in Erie and Niagara counties was the fifth biggest -- in both percentage and raw numbers -- among the nation's largest metro areas, dropping Buffalo Niagara from the 42nd to 47th largest region in the country, according to the 2010 Census.

The Census Bureau provided comparative data this week, offering some perspective on how the region's loss of 34,602 people -- or 2.96 percent of its population -- stacked up against the rest of the country.

Consider: Among 51 U.S. metro areas with 1 million or more people, 46 gained population between 2000 and 2010. That included the Rochester region, which grew 1.6 percent.

Buffalo Niagara was one of only five that didn't gain. The other four -- including hurricane-ravaged New Orleans -- saw bigger losses.

The metro regions of Pittsburgh and Cleveland both lost more than twice as many people as the Buffalo area did during the last decade.

And Buffalo Niagara's declines were modest compared to metro Detroit and New Orleans.

The Detroit region saw its population decrease by more than 156,000 people during the decade of the 2000s, while metropolitan New Orleans, which had its population dispersed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, dropped by more than 11 percent.

What's happening in Buffalo Niagara -- where the population was 1.13 million in 2010 -- and the other Rust Belt regions is in stark contrast to what's going on across much of the U.S.

The 2010 Census showed a nation as a whole grew 9.7 percent to more than 308 million, with much of that increase in the South and West.

The metro Las Vegas region, for example, grew by more than 575,000 people the past decade. The population of the Austin, Texas, region jumped by almost a half-million people.

"Although the U.S. as a whole has been growing, it looks as though we are clustering more in certain growth areas," said Robert B. Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University at Albany.

In fact, below Buffalo Niagara at 48th in size is the Raleigh, N.C., region, which had slightly fewer people than the Buffalo area in 2010.

But Buffalo and Raleigh -- one of the largest population gainers during the past decade -- are clearly heading in opposite directions.

The Raleigh region saw its population grow by 42 percent.

The difficulty for areas like Buffalo is they tend to have an older population, so there's not likely to be a huge net increase from new births, said Marc J. Perry, chief of the population distribution at the Census Bureau.

There's also not a huge amount of immigration, Perry said, which leaves only migration from other parts of the U.S. as a means to grow.

Perry tried to offer some hope for regions like Buffalo.

"No trend lasts forever," he said. "Things do tend to moderate over time."

For example, he said, any number of things can happen to change migration patterns.

"In the latter part of this decade, the housing crisis hit," Perry said. "Migration patterns changed very, very abruptly across the country and it was a good reminder that there are these external forces out there than can change migration behavior."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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