(WNY News Now) -A report released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reveals significant challenges in 10 rural counties, including population decline, aging residents, labor force contraction, and issues related to housing, healthcare, food, and broadband access.
Albany -New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s recent report highlights the growing challenges faced by 10 rural counties in the state. The counties examined, including Allegany, Chenango, Delaware, Essex, Greene, Hamilton, Lewis, Schuyler, Sullivan, and Wyoming, experienced population losses, an aging demographic, a shrinking labor force, and various hurdles concerning housing, healthcare, food, and broadband access.
Between 2011 and 2021, while the state’s population grew by 4.2%, these rural counties saw a decline of 3.4%. The median age in these areas rose by 6.5%, reaching 45.8, compared to the statewide increase of 3.7%.
The labor force in these counties decreased by 13,707 workers from 2012 to 2022, resulting in a loss of 2,580 jobs. Although the unemployment rate was lower (3.7%) than the state average (4.3%) in 2022, the labor force participation rate lagged significantly at 55.9%, compared to the state’s rate of 63.1%.
Issues with housing were also evident, with 32.5% of housing units in rural counties vacant in 2021, primarily due to second homes and vacation properties. Access to healthcare and food remained a concern, with shortages of medical services and food deserts affecting residents, especially the elderly.
Broadband access posed challenges, with 10.3% of addresses in rural counties lacking service, compared to 2.5% statewide. This hindered telehealth, telecommuting, and online education.
In response, policies targeting rural communities are being developed at the federal and state levels. Initiatives include the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, focused on broadband deployment, and the Rural Partners Network to access federal funding streams.