Demographic Vitality in Berkshires Population May Be Ebbing

Survey seeks to understand population decline among Berkshires young adults

Gold Point, Nevada, Abandoned Town

Gold Point, Nevada; photo by Vivaverdi CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is calling for participation in a survey, launched today, that targets 18– 39-year-olds. While the Berkshires aren’t yet a collection of ghost towns, ongoing data collection draws the outlines of a worrying picture of population trends. The online questionnaire, “Survey on Young Adults in the Berkshires,” can be accessed at:

http://berkshireplanning.org/events/announcements/survey-on-young-adults-in-the-berkshires/

“The Berkshires have been losing population for several decades,” the survey abstract informs, “and are projected to continue to lose population into the foreseeable future. Over the last two decades, the majority of this loss has been among young adults.”

Mark Maloy, GIS, Data and IT Manager with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, explained by e-mail, “BRPC is conducting this survey to gain a better understanding of this age group. The Berkshire’s have been losing population since the 1970’s and had mostly been people going away to college and not coming back.”

A youthful wanderlust and drive to seek their fortunes beyond the sheltering hills of Western Massachusetts wouldn’t be held against young 20-somethings in an earlier generation. Something fundamental has shifted, however, since the boom-times of the mid-1990’s.

“Over the last two decades,” said Maloy,  “this has changed and we see people moving away throughout the 20’s and early 30’s. In Berkshire County, the 18-39 year old population represents 24.5% of our population, or about 32,000 people, while this same age group represents 31% of the population in Massachusetts.  Our projections show this age group further declining to around 27,000 by 2030, a loss of around 4,500.  That loss is over half of the projected loss we expect to see in the county by 2030.

These figures seem to be at odds with the results of a 2014 survey conducted by 1Berkshire to determine the direction of population growth or decline in the region. The perception studies focused on data points from 2013 and produced results that suggest a fairly bright future in terms of new energy and creativity flowing into and remaining in the area. The survey, part of a project entitled, “Branding the Berkshires,” is described in “Part V: Berkshire Young Adults & College Students” by By Lauri Klefos, President & CEO, Berkshire Visitors Bureau and Chief Marketing Officer at 1Berkshire.

“There is a positive trend,” suggests the study, “of higher levels of young adults relocating to the Berkshires in the past year. In the past years, the inbound relocation pace of young adults was about 8% per year with 2013 showing an uptick to nearly 12%. Survey responses point directly to the availability of good jobs, internships and a climate of economic expansion as far more important enticements than are the availability of amenities that cater to their needs such as nightlife and affordable housing.”

Whether or not 2013 represents the beginning of a rise in desirability of the Berkshires to young professionals looking to set down roots will be a question business, education, and community leaders will be seeking to answer in the coming months and years. Decisions pertaining to infrastructure maintenance and municipal finance hinge on the numbers connected to this age group. If the downward Berkshires population trend continues, some of those decisions may have no painless outcomes.

“The implications,” offered Maloy, “of this reduced young adult population is far reaching, from not enough employees to further reduction in school enrollment. The hope is that this survey will provide us with a better understanding as to what this age group is looking for, and hopefully we will find some things that can be used for short and long term policy. We will be continuing to gather responses through the end of March, but we are excited to see the number of responses and what they have said so far and are looking forward to analyzing the results and presenting them to the region.

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