Introduction

Understanding the demographics of Central New York can help us better work to address our region’s changing and diversifying needs.

People Icon

Central New York residents are thought to skew older, as many young people leave for warmer climates or to seek career opportunities. In reality, local indicators point to a median age of 38 in the five county region. By examining the average ages of our residents, we can estimate future needs for adequate eldercare and housing as they grow older.

The primary languages spoken in our region are heavily influenced by our growing refugee population. In the past decade Syracuse welcomed over 7,000 refugees. In recent years the number of refugees arriving each year has declined, but there were still 117 new arrivals in 2020. With this growing population comes unique challenges – from language barriers to school readiness. But with it also comes economic development and enhancements to our neighborhoods’ cultural fabric.

These demographic indicators point to the uniqueness of the local population and can be used to influence planning for the services residents may need today and tomorrow.

Age Distribution

Age Distribution by Gender - Onondaga County

Age Distribution by Gender - Madison County

Age Distribution by Gender - Oswego County

Age Distribution by Gender - Cayuga County

Age Distribution by Gender - Cortland County

Age Distribution by Gender - Syracuse

Age Distribution by Gender - Oneida

Age Distribution by Gender - Oswego City

Age Distribution by Gender - Auburn

Age Distribution by Gender - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Our youngest cohorts are concentrated in cities.

Central New York’s youngest populations reside in the region’s metropolitan areas. In Syracuse, males and females aged 25-29 are the largest age group, with females outnumbering males by about 650 people. The City of Cortland also has a large gender gap among young people, with more females aged 18-21 than males, which may be due in part by college enrollment.

In all five counties, males and females aged 50-54 or aged 55-59 represent the largest age group. This could be attributed to the area’s population decline resulting from younger adults leaving the area. Madison and Cayuga Counties tend to have older populations, with the majority of residents aged 40 or older. Cortland, Onondaga, and Oswego Counties have relatively younger populations. Most counties have the largest gender gap among the oldest age category (85+), with females outnumbering males.

Why Does It Matter?

Understanding demographics help us understand community needs.

A region’s demographics can help illustrate its changing and diversifying needs while shedding insight on the make-up of individuals and populations within a community. The study of age distribution and gender data can influence planning for policy initiatives, housing, schools, and health systems.

For example, knowing there are growing numbers of older adults are in a community could help determine need for community programs that serve this population. Demographic information is always helpful in tailoring outreach messages and service offerings.

The high number of young women in Syracuse and Cortland compared to men could correlate to more single mothers in the region. This may point to services needed by this population, such as affordable, high-quality child care.

Aging populations can sometimes be correlated with a feeling of decline in an area, as it signals a population decrease. A younger population can bring vibrancy and innovation, leading to the growth and success of a community. This highlights the importance of ensuring cultural and economic opportunities are available to motivate our youth to stay and energize the region.

Languages by Area

Languages by Area - Onondaga County

Languages by Area - Madison County

Languages by Area - Oswego County

Languages by Area - Cayuga County

Languages by Area - Cortland County

Languages by Area - Syracuse

Languages by Area - Oneida

Languages by Area - Oswego City

Languages by Area - Auburn

Languages by Area - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Languages spoken represent the diversity of the region.

Although English is the main language spoken throughout Central New York, many residents speak more than one language.

Following the national trend, the second most commonly-spoken language in the region is Spanish. There are also a good number of Chinese speakers, the third most commonly spoken language in the United States and the first in the world. Clusters of French, German, and other European language speakers can be found even in rural counties.

Arabic speakers can be found throughout the region, with most living in Onondaga County. Arabic is an official language of many countries including Somalia, Sudan, and Syria. Between 2007 and 2016, Somalian and Syrian refugees were some of the most represented in Onondaga County. In recent years, more refugees have arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where French is spoken. The number of refugees arriving each year peaked in 2016 at 1,455 and has been declining since this time.

Why Does It Matter?

A diverse city benefits all.

The majority of people who speak non-English languages, such as Vietnamese and Arabic, are concentrated in the city of Syracuse’s Northside, where high populations of immigrants and refugees reside.

Immigrants and refugees add to a region’s diversity, making for a stronger and more vibrant community. Diversity in food and culture attracts younger populations, creates growth and presents economic opportunities benefitting a city and its residents.

According to New American Economy foreign born residents added significantly to the local tax base, made up 4.9 percent of the Syracuse’s metropolitan statistical area’s spending power, and contributed $1.7 billion to the Gross Domestic Product of the metro area.

Syracuse has seen a dramatic decline in population since the 1950s. Immigrants and refugees helped reverse that downward trend by increasing the city’s population by almost two percent between 2000 and 2014. Immigrants and refugees in Upstate New York have also increased the value of real estate by fixing homes and starting successful businesses.

A diverse city benefits all.

A Local Story

Starting New Again

Individuals from all over the globe occupy the main lobby of InterFaith Works (InterFaith). The beautiful blend of languages are intertwined, a sign that afternoon classes are about to get underway.

One of those refugees utilizing and finding strength at InterFaith is Shou Da Yan from China. He is one of the many success stories that have come out of the organization’s refugee support programs. He arrived in the United States in February of 2017.

InterFaith addresses the needs of those who have arrived through federal refugee resettlement programs — fleeing war, political oppression and famine. The road to get here is grueling and tiresome. InterFaith is instrumental in getting newly resettled people acclimated and helping them become self-sufficient. Staff members assist with the details many take for granted — like completing paperwork, getting connected to a primary care physician and ensuring their homes are secure.

When he was younger, Shou Da’s mother and father were both imprisoned in Shenyang under religious persecution. During that time, he lived with his cousin and found it extremely hard to live with a very limited income. His mother lives here now, and he hopes to bring his father to the United States and make his family whole again. He credits InterFaith with helping him learn English and obtain his first job.

According to Executive Director Beth Broadway, the refugees that come through InterFaith’s doors are some of the most resilient, hardworking people she has ever met.

“They are survivors and will do just about anything to start their lives over again,” said Broadway. “We’re all here. We’re all in this together and it makes us stronger. It’s what builds our democracy.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Teach sign language with WHOLEME Learn More »
Donate
Fund multicultural interpreter services through MAMI Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

English Proficiency

English Proficiency Ratios - Onondaga County

English Proficiency Ratios - Madison County

English Proficiency Ratios - Oswego County

English Proficiency Ratios - Cayuga County

English Proficiency Ratios - Cortland County

English Proficiency Ratios - Syracuse

English Proficiency Ratios - Oneida

English Proficiency Ratios - Oswego City

English Proficiency Ratios - Auburn

English Proficiency Ratios - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

High numbers of people with limited English proficiency are concentrated in Syracuse

English language proficiency is measured among people who speak a language other than English at home. People who report speaking English less than “very well” are considered to have lower English language proficiency than those who report speaking English “very well.”

In Central New York, Syracuse has the largest percentage of people who speak a language other than English at home, due in part to its large immigrant and refugee population. More than 70 languages are spoken in the Syracuse City School District, reflecting the diversity of the community.

In Syracuse, Vietnamese speakers are the most limited in English proficiency – with almost 70 percent speaking English less than very well. Across the region, Central New Yorkers who speak Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and other Asian and Pacific Island languages tend to have low English proficiency ratios than those who speak French, German, and other Indo-European languages. However, English proficiency levels vary from county to county.

Why Does It Matter?

Limited English proficiency significantly affects daily life.

When a resident of the United States has limited proficiency in the dominant English language, it can present a series of challenges that are significantly impactful on their lives and those around them. This includes the degree and quality of their education, employment, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license, vote, and gain government or public assistance. This can make it difficult to gain access to something as important as healthcare to something seemingly simple, such as purchasing groceries.

Understanding the number of people in an area who have limited English proficiency can allow services to be better aligned towards the needs of a community. For example, organizations may need to translate their materials into other languages and design their materials for audiences with lower English proficiency. Healthcare, legal, social service, education, and workplace settings may need interpreters to enable people to better access services.

Central New York is fortunate to have numerous programs devoted to helping people for whom English is a new language. For example, the Syracuse-based non-profit Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment (RISE) has an initiative to assist youth and adults with academic and career-related goals.

Limited English proficiency significantly affects daily life.

A Local Story

A Voice for the Voiceless

Hamadi Mukoma lights up when he talks about his work at MAMI Interpreters. His passion doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s important to me to help others around the community because I understand the struggle that some may have,” said Mukoma.”

MAMI (originally the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters of Central New York, Inc) is a nonprofit civil rights organization that prides itself in offering Limited-English Proficient (LEP) persons better access to health care, legal and social services.

Mukoma came to the United States in September of 2003. He was born in Somalia, but fled to Kenya with his family as refugees in 1989 during the Somalian Civil War. The father of six began to work with MAMI as a freelance interpreter in 2006. In 2008, the organization hired him as a part-time interpreter. 

His services are often in high demand. His calendar is booked several months out and he is a common figure gracing hospital and court halls. He is a calming force between doctor and patient, an educator in most cases, too, explaining culture on both sides. He carefully explains that in the United States, everyone has freedom of speech and the right to get the proper medical care; in most cases, the people he serves come from countries that suppress basic human rights.

“When refugees come to the United States, they don’t know what their rights when seeking services,” said Mukoma. “They’re scared to speak up here because they were not given these rights by their government in their country.”

New Americans also face difficulty understanding the laws of a new land. Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), domestic abuse and sexual harassment laws are not common in many of their home countries, causing confusion, Mukoma notes.

“When I go to court, I see people struggle because they don’t know the law here,” said Mukoma. “For many, they don’t know that what they’re doing is against the law here because no one taught them. There is a significant language barrier.”

As a multilingual interpreter who speaks Swahili, Somali and Maay Maay, Mukoma is a real asset to Syracuse’s refugee and immigrant community. He is eager to develop his skills and says he values the relationships he has made over the years through his work in the hospitals and courts.

Mukoma praises the work MAMI Interpreters does and emphasizes just how important its work is.

“MAMI gives a voice to everyone,” said Mukoma. “We are here to help anyone who lives in this region and needs a service from us.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Organize refugee events for Interfaith Works Learn More »
Donate
Increase adult English proficiency through Literacy CNY Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Our Veterans

Veteran Population - Onondaga County

Veteran Population - Madison County

Veteran Population - Oswego County

Veteran Population - Cayuga County

Veteran Population - Cortland County

Veteran Population - Syracuse

Veteran Population - Oneida

Veteran Population - Oswego City

Veteran Population - Auburn

Veteran Population - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Most Veterans in the area served in the Vietnam War.

The majority of Veterans living in Central New York served during the Vietnam War; there are over 8,200 Vietnam veterans in Onondaga County alone. The second largest number served in peacetime or before World War II (counted as “Other” in the chart above). Across the region the next largest categories of veterans served in the Gulf Wars, and there are smaller populations of veterans from the Korean War and World War II.

Across the nation there are roughly 18 million living veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As of 2017, New York had the fifth-largest Veteran population across the 50 states. The veteran population in Central New York roughly mirrors the veteran population in the U.S. overall, with Vietnam veterans being the largest group of veterans and smaller numbers of veterans having served in the earlier wars.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that the veteran population has been decreasing since 1980 and predicts that by 2040 the Veteran population in America will decline from today’s 18 million to about 12.9 million. The Central New York region has experienced this trend over the past decade. For example, the Veteran population in Onondaga County was approximately 35,551 in 2009 and decreased to 25,410 in 2018.

Why Does It Matter?

For Veterans, the obstacles reentering civilian life are many.

Veterans face many obstacles after completing service and reentering civilian life, including post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, substance use, depression and thoughts of suicide, according to the National Institute of Health. Evaluating the size and average age of a community’s veteran population can assist with planning for health and mental care needs.

Homelessness is also a major issue among veterans. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were approximately 37,000 veterans living in homelessness in 2019, a substantial decrease from the number reported in 2011.

Successful reintegration into civilian life requires the availability of post-military employment opportunities, homelessness prevention services and quality mental and physical healthcare. Americans’ pride in our armed forces is entrenched in our culture; with the right data and resources, we can ensure that we are providing our veterans with the services they need.

For Veterans, the obstacles reentering civilian life are many.

A Local Story

Honoring Their Service

In 2009, Randy Flath traveled as a guardian with his father on a mission with Honor Flight Rochester. As one of the many hubs of the national Honor Flight Network, the organization works to help every willing and able war veteran obtain a flight or bus trip to visit the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. The trips are completely free of charge and funded by donations and gifts.

While there, Flath observed the smiles and gratitude of the veterans at the memorial and throughout the trip. After seeing how much this experience meant to his father and the other veterans on the mission, he was determined to bring a similar experience to the veterans of Central New York.

Flath is now the President and co-founder of Honor Flight Syracuse. As president, he leads the board to coordinate missions and ensure the growth and stability of its programming.

“Due to the advancing age and fixed income of World War II veterans, many are unable to visit the memorial that was built and designed in their honor,” he said. “The experience provides veterans with a chance to go to the memorial where they are honored.”

During the missions, each veteran is accompanied by a volunteer guardian to ensure a safe and comfortable experience. When arriving back at the airport after each mission, they are greeted with a warm welcome of bagpipers, friends and neighbors who gather there to mark the final leg of their journey with a show of gratitude.

“We not only want to give veterans the chance to see the meaningful memorial, but to remind them that their service and sacrifices for our country are still appreciated every day,” said Flath. “Veterans have reported that it is truly an immeasurable experience.”

Although for some a mission can be a solemn trip of difficult memories, they are able to experience it together with their comrades from their days of service, family members and caring volunteers by their side. Families of veterans have reported that the tours have stirred memories that the veterans shared with their loved ones for the first time ever and ultimately brought family members closer together to record history for future generations.

Since inception in May of 2012, the Syracuse hub has completed ten missions, carrying more than 600 veterans ranging in age from 86-101 years old.

“We not only want to give veterans the chance to see the meaningful memorial, but to remind them that their service and sacrifices for our country are still appreciated every day,” said Flath. “Veterans have reported that it is truly an immeasurable experience.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Welcome home veterans from Honor Flight missions Learn More »
Donate
Support Clear Path for Veterans Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »