The South Fork’s population soared over the past decade, with some localities registering the fastest population rises in their history, the Census Bureau reported on August 12, a departure from national trends that was driven by pandemic-motivated moves out east from the New York metropolitan area.
The latest Census Bureau data also unveiled a remarkably more diverse nation and region. Consistent with national statistics, the non-Hispanic white share of the population decreased locally, and the share of people identifying as multiracial significantly increased.
The region’s changing demographics have deep implications for local governance, infrastructure projects and congressional redistricting. Congressional reapportionment already determined that New York will lose a Congressional seat in 2022.
Nationally, the Census Bureau documented profound urban growth and decline in rural populations — in New York, 48 of the 62 counties are estimated to be shrinking in population; New York City’s population grew by 8 percent.
And while Suffolk County’s population grew by 3.1 percent, data for the East End documented a clear migration — population growth was largely concentrated in the region’s villages and east of the Shinnecock Canal.
The population of Southampton Village grew at its fastest rate in recorded history, dating back to 1870, with a 46.3 percent increase of those calling the village home in 2020 — that’s 1,441 new residents in a decade.
Likewise, the East Hampton Village’s population increased by 40.1 percent — also the fastest rate ever recorded in the village, reversing a history of population decline over the past century. The village peaked in size in 1930.
Qualifying anecdotal evidence and droves of data harbingers, the census endorsed the tales of 2021’s traffic woes; the housing market’s pandemic boom; and reports of cell networks stretched beyond capacity.
Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren credited village employees with maintaining services for the increased population, and said he would be working on infrastructure improvements to meet the surge in demand.
“We are looking forward to moving ahead with our sewer district which will begin to address some of the much needed infrastructure improvements,” Mr. Warren wrote in an email.
These challenges are also on the mind of East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who now has nearly 7,000 new constituents. He stressed that problems from traffic and the lack of affordable housing form a feedback loop.
“Part of the problem with traffic is that we’ve seen a huge influx of people coming into the community, and that pretty much decimated the rental housing within the town,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
Mr. Van Scoyoc then noted that the lack of affordable housing means that more service workers must commute into the town from afar to serve the increased population, feeding the traffic problem.
East Hampton town recorded a 32.2 percent increase in the number of occupied homes from 2010 to 2020 — the Census Bureau reported that 11,118 of the 21,163 housing units were occupied in 2020.
The Census Bureau counts a home as occupied if the residents at the time of the census “consider it their usual place of residence or have no usual place of residence elsewhere,” according to a list of their definitions — seasonal homes are counted as vacant.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he is not interested in expanding or building new roadways, rather, exploring new and additional public transportation options.
The town’s energy infrastructure is another area of concern with the spike in population. “The electrical infrastructure is really stressed and strained,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
He added that the completion of the wind farm off the South Fork will help revitalize the region’s energy infrastructure — the project, expected to be operational by the end of 2023, will provide power to an estimated 70,000 homes.
In the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, the 2020 census recorded a total of 63,933 homes, 36,924 of which were reported as occupied. In Southampton Town, the population spike was most pronounced in Bridgehampton, Sagaponack, Noyac and Water Mill. A region south of Montauk Highway between Sagg Main Street and Flying Point Road saw 1,057 new residents — a population increase of 117.1 percent.
Elsewhere, from Hampton Bays and Flanders to North Sea, the population increase ranged from 4.8 percent to 22 percent.
The East End is also becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse.
The non-hispanic white population constitutes about 15 percent less of the total population than it did in 2010 in both Southampton and East Hampton towns, while the number of non-Hispanic Americans who identified as multiracial jumped — this due to a nationwide reckoning over the construction and intersection of racial identities, a design change in the 2020 census form allowing respondents to describe their racial background and the growing diversity of the nation and region.
In Southampton Town, 24.9 percent of people identified as Hispanic or Latino, up from 19.9 percent in 2010. The same figure in East Hampton Town was nearly constant from 2010 to 2020.
Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, said she believes these figures are undercounts, citing tactics by the Trump Administration, which used racially charged discourse to intimidate members of immigrant communities from responding to the census, to complete an inaccurate census.
“We had people that were scared to death, they’re scared to death to even apply for WIC, because they thought if they get food for their baby that they’re going to be deported,” Ms. Perez said, referring to a federal supplemental nutrition social policy. “There’s no way in the world we got people filling out information about everyone in their household and all their demographic information.”
Regardless, she pointed to the 30 years of sustained growth of the Latino and Hispanic population on the East End, and pointed to failures in government to acknowledge and adapt to the changing demographic — specifically, in communication and community outreach.
She cited mental health access: “We do not have enough Spanish speaking mental health professionals available to our community members,” Ms. Perez said. She noted that OLA works to help local agencies “really find the best ways to engage and to create trust and communication with all members of this community.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc also raised his belief that the 2020 census was flawed and undercounted the population, citing both individual’s reluctance to participate and the concurrent influx of “refugees” from New York City.
“I don’t know that that increase reflects just how many people really made that move,” he said.
Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, pledged that the 2020 census was “complete and accurate” in an April 26 news conference.
Features Editor Brendan J. O’Reilly contributed reporting.