For generations, New York has struggled to retain its people. The issue has been an acute one for upstate communities — both urban and rural — that have fretted the loss of its younger residents.
Now, after the pandemic has led to even more out-of-state departures, the issue has become a statewide problem and a talking point in the race for governor.
New York's political clout has eroded as a result of the population problems. As more people leave and other parts of the country grow at a fast clip, the state loses representation in the House of Representatives.
There's also the economic factor: Fewer people means reduced tax revenue for a state that relies heavily on very wealthy people for much of its budget.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a western New York native, has said she's all too familiar with the problem of people leaving the state for greener pastures.
"I lived through this," Hochul said this week. "I've lived through the decline when major industries rolled up and left. This was the 70s and 80s. I am seeing a turnaround in the number of jobs being created."
Hochul has pointed to efforts like spending for higher education and high-tech jobs that will keep people in New York and even attract new residents.
"There's going to be a different trend when we continue to make the investments in the jobs that draw people here," she said. "Of course you would leave. But now the jobs are coming."
On the campaign trail, Hochul's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, has been pushing her to address the issue of population loss, which he blames on high taxes and crime.
"Challenge her to complete this sentence: New York leads the entire country in population loss because," Zeldin said. "Challenge her to complete that sentence."
Zeldin has pledged to reduce taxes, including the income tax and inheritance taxes in order to make New York more affordable. He also wants a cap on state spending.
"We need to ensure that it's easier to afford to survive here and that has to do with the job that you have, the cost of living," he said.
The state had a net loss of people of more than 350,000 in a 12-month period between 2020 and 2021 — coninciding with the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Warren of the Empire Center think tank says what had largely been a problem plaguing upstate communities has now become a statewide concern.
"The 350,000 people who left the state — that's roughly the number of people who left New York City," Warren said.
New York's economy and budget could be in trouble if many of those people are high-income earners who contribute much of the state's tax revenue. New York recently boosted taxes on upper income earners.
"Taxes play a big role," he said. "Tax rates are policy, policy can be changed."