Demographic Trends

Millbrook, New York

A good transportation system allows all of us to live our lives, earn a living, and pursue our interests. Trends in population directly affect transportation, both in terms of demand and the types of transportation services people need. To better understand what might happen to this demand and what transportation services might be needed in the future, we sought to answer two basic questions:

  • What are the trends in the county’s population, including characteristics such as age, race/ethnicity, and income?
  • Where in the county do we expect population to grow, decline, or stay the same?

To answer these questions, we reviewed data from a variety of sources to learn how our population may change by 2045. Below is a summary of those key trends, their implications, and ideas on how we might address them.

Trend 1. Flat or extremely low population growth

We can no longer assume population growth rates seen in past decades will continue. Based on available estimates, we expect that the county’s population to hover around 300,000 through 2045—about the same as it is now. This number, the average of upper and lower bound estimates of 318,000 and 286,000 respectively, stands in contrast to our previous plans. Although our county has grown every decade since 1890, current Census estimates for 2019 show a decline from 2010, the first decline in over a century. The reasons for this slow to no growth can be traced to three basic components of population change: births--which are lower, deaths--which are higher, and migration--which is flat (and not enough to offset natural decline).

This trend will affect a range of issues, including travel demand. Without pressure to expand due to population growth, maintaining and managing existing transportation infrastructure and systems will be more important than expansion. We can focus our attention on repairs and making the transportation system as efficient as possible. In some cases, we may be able to adjust transportation facilities to reflect reduced demand or redesign facilities to meet shifting travel needs.

Trend 2. Uneven population changes across the county

Though we expect the county’s population to stay relatively flat through 2045, there will be variation at the local level. Recent Census estimates show that most of our municipalities lost residents during the past decade, though three– East Fishkill, Fishkill, and Rhinebeck – saw population growth from 2010-2019. When available, the 2020 Census will provide more accurate data on population changes at the local level.

Changes in local population, especially in densities, will impact the demand for and viability of certain transportation services such as transit and ridesharing, and transportation facilities such as sidewalks and trails. We already know that our cities, villages, and town centers benefit from multi-layered transportation systems. Local data from the 2020 Census will show higher-density neighborhoods that have the potential to support new transit service or new or improved walking and biking facilities. Lower-density areas may benefit from new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, which could make rural communities more attractive to residents aging in place and prospective newcomers.

Trend 3. More older residents and fewer younger residents

Our county is graying, and older people will continue to make up a larger share of our population and younger people a smaller share. If this trend continues, we could have as many older adults (65+) as young people (under 18) in the coming years, a first in our history. We can also see this trend reflected in our median age, which was 37 years in 2000, 40 in 2010, and is estimated at 42-43 in 2018. Estimates for our county show that the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by almost 30 percent between 2020 and 2040, while at the same time, those 17 and under will decrease by more than six percent. This age shift will be conspicuous, as our total population will stay constant through these years.

The graying of our population will affect how our transportation system is used and what services are needed. It will likely mean less travel on our roads, since older residents tend to make fewer trips and drive fewer miles than other age groups, while at the same time, younger people are waiting longer to obtain driver’s licenses and appear less inclined to drive than previous generations. Travel demand may also decline as fewer people age into the labor force, and more of those who work do so remotely.

The aging population will require us to consider how we design our facilities (including streets, sidewalks, and transit) so that they work for all ages. Expanding travel options will also be important. Older adults tend to rely more on others for transportation – whether carpooling with family or using volunteer driver programs. Ride-hailing services, plus the gradual introduction of autonomous vehicles, could complement these existing systems. We might also see increased demand for specialized transit services such as Dial-a-Ride, in addition to regular bus services. The benefits of such services would not be limited to older adults but could serve many people.

Trend 4. Increasing racial and ethnic diversity at the county level; uneven at the local level

While we expect our total population to be relatively flat through 2045, it will become increasingly diverse, with growing shares of minority and Hispanic populations. In 2018 the county’s minority population (Black or African American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and other races) made up 18 percent of our total population, an increase from 14 percent in 2010. Census estimates also show that the county’s Hispanic population was 12.5 percent in 2018, compared to 11 percent in 2010. We expect this growth to continue, mirroring national and statewide trends – although national immigration policy will affect the pace of change.

The 2020 Census will provide more data on minority and Hispanic population growth across the county, though we expect this growth to remain uneven at the local level and follow historic patterns. For example, over 68 percent of the county’s household Black population lives in the cities of Beacon and Poughkeepsie, a share that has stayed constant since at least 1980. Similarly, 58 percent of the county’s Hispanic population lives in Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Wappingers Falls combined.

Given our growing diversity, transportation services will need to be more inclusive of various languages, cultures, and travel patterns. At the local level, continued concentrations of minority populations in Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Wappingers Falls will require us to pay close attention to how our transportation decisions affect these areas, and most importantly, press us to avoid negative impacts to these communities as we implement recommended policies and projects in Moving Dutchess Forward.

What We Heard

"I am fast approaching the time when I will give up driving my own vehicle. The loss of independence is terrifying, as I will then have to depend on others (and taxis) to drive to destinations I now easily drive to myself."

- Moving Dutchess Forward survey

Trend 5. Flat or declining household incomes

Our economy – whether viewed from the standpoint of employment, household income, or freight activity – determines to a large extent how our transportation system is used. We discuss these issues in detail in our economic trends analysis, but for demographics, we focus on household income. Income provides people with choices, not only in where to live and work, but also in the ways they travel. Higher-income households tend to have more vehicles and are more inclined to travel by car, whereas lower-income households may have limited access to a vehicle and are more likely to travel by transit, particularly bus, and by walking and bicycling.

When adjusted for inflation, county household incomes have remained flat over the past decade. The percent of people living below the poverty level continues to hover around nine percent, with an equal percentage of households receiving food assistance. The Poughkeepsie and Dover areas have the highest share of low-income populations in the county, while the City of Poughkeepsie has the highest share of households without a vehicle available. We expect these conditions to continue or get worse, with about a tenth of our population living under economic stress at any given time. Recognizing this, we will need to ensure that low-cost transportation options remain available to lower-income populations.

Our Role

Based on what we’ve learned about these future demographic trends, our role could include the following:

  • Manage and maintain existing infrastructure, including our roads, bridges, transit systems, sidewalks, and trails, while maximizing their safety and efficiency.
  • Consider opportunities to reduce or remove unneeded capacity (also known as ‘right-sizing’ our infrastructure). This may include deferred maintenance on roads or bridges if there are no negative safety or economic impacts.
  • Given limited expected growth, reconsider the need to build additional roads or add lanes, and instead, first look at ways to make the existing system more efficient.
  • Support and promote transportation options for older adults, in coordination with relevant agencies and organizations such as County Public Transit and the County’s Office for the Aging.
  • Protect our most vulnerable populations and communities from bearing negative impacts from our transportation decisions or lack thereof.
  • Work to incorporate culturally sensitive practices and policies into our transportation systems and programs.

Whatever changes occur in our county, our challenge will be to find an acceptable balance between competing needs and limited resources. Changes in population, ages, and income will affect travel behavior, as will external influences such as the economy, technology, and climate change.