Census: Rochester falls to New York's fourth-largest city 

Data from the 2020 census shows that Rochester has lost its longtime designation as the third-largest city in New York, being surpassed by Yonkers.

Data from the 2020 census shows that Rochester has lost its longtime designation as the third-largest city in New York, being surpassed by Yonkers.

Rochester's population grew for the first time in 70 years, but not enough for the city to retain its longtime perch as the third largest in New York, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Data showed that Rochester's population grew to 211,328 people in 2020 from 210,674 in 2010, a gain of 654 residents. The increase, however modest, was the first the city has seen in the decennial census since 1950, when its population stood at 332,488.

The gain, though, was eclipsed by that of Yonkers, a suburb of New York City. Yonkers recorded 211,569 people in the census — edging out Rochester for the third-largest city in the state by 241 people. 

New York City remains the most populous city in the state, while Buffalo retained its second-place ranking.

The new designation for Rochester represents a psychological blow to a city whose reputation has been battered as of late by media coverage of its government's handling of the death of Daniel Prude and the tribulations of its mayor, Lovely Warren, who is facing criminal charges in two unrelated cases.

click to enlarge The Rochester skyline. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • The Rochester skyline.

Rochester had held the designation as the third-largest city in New York, behind New York City and Buffalo, respectively, since 1898, when the five boroughs of New York City amalgamated to become one city.

In practical terms, though, Rochester's loss of its status does not mean much.

By staying above the 200,000-resident mark, Rochester retains its eligibility for a variety of federal Community Development Block Grants that it receives each year. Those grants fund myriad projects, from razing vacant houses and building public facilities to economic development initiatives.

"We're happy about the fact that Rochester's population grew, even just slightly," city spokesman Justin Roj said.

Roj questioned the 241-person difference between the Rochester and Yonkers counts. He noted the administration of President Donald Trump's effort to end the count early — an effort backed by the U.S. Supreme Court — and said the Census Bureau denied a request from City Hall for a list of uncounted households in Rochester.

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Duffy said Yonkers has a natural advantage in terms of population by virtue of being in the New York City area.

While Rochester falling behind is no cause for alarm in terms of funding, he said, he cautioned that Rochester could lose some of the spotlight.

“I don’t think it makes any specific areas problematic for us, but I do think, perceptionally you get more attention being No. 3, than being No. 4 or 5,” Duffy said.

Rochester's rate of growth of 0.36 percent was much slower than that of other comparable cities in New York, including Yonkers, Buffalo, and Syracuse.

Yonkers saw its population increase 7.9 percent from 2010, according to census data. The populations of Buffalo and Syracuse grew 6.5 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively. 

Monroe County also saw its population grow over the last 10 years, to 759,443 residents from 744,344, an increase of about 2 percent.

By contrast, Westchester County jumped 5.8 percent to top 1 million residents, Erie County grew 3.8 percent to 954,236 residents, and Onondaga County rose to 476,516, for a change of 2 percent.

New York as a whole grew to 20,201,249 residents from 19,378,102 in 2010.

The Census Bureau also noted that the white population in the United States has decreased by 8.6 percent, while the numbers for all other racial and ethnic groups increased. The multiracial population grew by a stunning 276 percent.

Monroe County followed similar trends. The number of white residents decreased by 8 percent countywide while the Black population grew by 5 percent, the Asian population increased by 34.4 percent, and the Hispanic or Latino population grew by 34.7 percent. The Census Bureau also reported that the number of multiracial residents in the county grew by 183 percent — a nearly 35,000 person increase from 2010.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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