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Donahue Institute population estimates program report on the Pioneer Valley

A summary of an article by Mary Carey that appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

The U.S. Census Bureau released annual population estimates showing slow growth in Hampshire County and negative growth in Franklin County.  But, according to the Population Estimates Program of the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute those living in group housing, around 2,650 people in Amherst and more than 18,000 in the state, might have gone uncounted by the Census.  The program is working with the Secretary of State’s office to identify individuals that might have gone unnoticed by the Census, $600,000 was appropriated for this year, another $800,000 is expected for next year.  The population count affects some federal funding and the number of representatives that Massachusetts has in Congress.

Had this program been running earlier, the Census Bureau would have probably included it in the estimates themselves, said Michael Goodman, director of economic and public policy at the Donahue Institute.  “The goal is not to challenge the Census every year,” he said, “The goal is to have the Commonwealth become more active partner with the Census Bureau, and we are well on our way to doings this.”

While Barnstable, Franklin, Berkshire and Hampden counties have estimated lost population, Hampshire County has an estimated gain of .11 percent in 2007.  Goodman explains that the reasons for these population trends vary from region to region spanning from aging population, deterioration of the local economy and young people leaving.

“In the Pioneer Valley itself, you have very little change over the longer term, which someone might call stability and someone else might call stagnation, depending upon your perspective,” explains Goodman. “There is a limited number of large, relatively stable industries – higher education and government, some of the financial services and health care industries.  So even though the region, particularly Hampshire County, attracts a greater number of students to the colleges, there really haven’t been, over time, the kind of job opportunities for graduates to allow them to stay, raise families and contribute to population growth.”

Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning commission, cites immigration as a main reason for the growth in this region and New England.  Because a large part of the population here is turning 65 soon, the planning commission is developing strategies to retain college students in the area as well as encouraging older workers to stay in their jobs longer.  Brennan also cites the lack of affordable housing as a reason that Massachusetts is losing population.

Specifically in regards to Amherst, the Census estimated that there were 34,317 residents in 2006 and 34, 272 in 2007, said Susan Strate, manager of the Donahue Institute’s population estimates program.  The program also estimates that 2,650 people, most likely living in dormitories, went uncounted.  To get these numbers, the program surveyed all group housing facilities in the state, such as colleges, universities, and jails.

“We might ask the question, has there been any trend toward deinstitutionalization, where perhaps people moved out of larger facilities and are split up into places where we will eventually find them, but maybe not in our first swipe.  We’ve taken a big step forward, but we’re not convinced we’ve found everyone yet,” said Strate.  “As we move into our second year, we anticipate being able to slowly but surely find people where they are.”

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