Mark Maloy of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission talks population decline at the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday was given a bleak outlook on the county's future because of the "inevitable decrease" of population that could drop by nearly half in just over a generation.
Mark Maloy of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission gave the club an overview of a population trend report released this past January at the request of Vice President Jeffrey Lefebvre.
There is little that can be done to halt the decline, Maloy told the small group at the PNA.
"We think, at Berkshire Planning, loss is inevitable, and there is nothing we can do to completely stop this loss, but we need to do something as a region to slow down the decline to help moderate it and lessen the impact," he said.
He said the county's population has been decreasing since the 1970s, dropping from near 150,000 to 131,000 as of 2010. He added that the Berkshires loses about 450 people a year.
The commission looked at births and deaths as well as migration when making projections.
When subtracting the amount of births from deaths, Berkshire County lost 172 people in 2010. On average, the county loses 200 to 250 people a year because of natural causes.
Nearly 3,000 people migrate to the Berkshires each year, but 3,250 are leaving every year for a net loss.
If the current projection is followed, said Maloy, Berkshire County will see a spike in population loss by 2030, and if nothing is done by then, the quickened decline will be inevitable.
"After 2030, the decline accelerates quite a bit, and we are anticipating a population of 80,000 people by 2060, which is a loss of 50,000 people," he said. "Imagine everything north of Pittsfield gone … and imagine Pittsfield, Dalton and Lanesborough gone."
Maloy said Adams will be affected as its population will continue to decrease as it has since for the past century. Since 1910, the town has gone from 13,000 people to 8,500.
With a primarily older population, Adams will see another 5 percent reduction in population by 2030. He said this is mostly because the population is already low. With fewer younger people in Adams, school enrollment will continue to drop and there will be a smaller work force.
He added this would lead to more home vacancies and lower property values.
Many people feel as though the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School is responsible for much of the enrollment decline, but this is not necessarily correct, said Maloy. If those students were to join the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, which has seen a 20 percent decline in the last 10 years, the district would only see a 7 percent increase in enrollment because not all BArT students are from Adams or Cheshire.
He said one of the main issues facing Berkshire County is age distribution. The county has a larger number of older citizens; to create sustainability it is important to attract younger people (ages 20-30) because they are more likely to have kids who also are more likely to stay in the area.
With many of the baby boomers retiring, there is a hole left in the work force. With fewer young, educated and capable people staying in the area, the work force and population will continue to decline, Maloy said.
Maloy explained that the influx of retirees from the baby boom is affecting the whole country.
"The whole country is facing what they call the silver tsunami," he said. "This is the baby boomers aging and all the challenges the country will face as the baby boomers retire."
To lessen the impact, the county has to focus on migration and attracting people to settle here. He said 800 young people would have to move to the county each year just to sustain the current population.
However, mostly older people are attracted to the Berkshire and an increase in the older population would only slow down the inevitable, Maloy said. To match the 800 younger people, Berkshire County would need 2,500 older people a year.
"The trick is to attract younger educated people to the county, which means creating jobs and making the area more exciting," he said. "We think about General Dynamics; they hire 500 new people over three years so we would need two or three General Dynamics every year.
Maloy said things can be done to slow down the process, but population will most likely continue to decline. He said if there is a focus on smaller communities and regionalization, the effects of 2030 may be less.
Maloy brought up the probable renovations of Taconic, Monument Mountain and Mount Greylock high schools and whether communities should be building large schools or more compact ones.
He also discussed the problem with the number of schools in Berkshire County. The state suggests 1,200 to 1,500 students per school — this would mean there should be four schools instead of 12.
Maloy said most rural areas in the country are facing a similar population crisis. This is both good and bad because it creates competition.
"There is going to be a lot of competition for the younger generation," he said. "Every rural county out there is going to be offering incentives to get people to move there."
Maloy urged people to not take the numbers too seriously because they are extrapolated and will have errors in them. He said the thing to pay attention to and try to fix is the trends and their magnitude.
"I've given this presentation to 10 to 15 groups," Maloy said. "This is getting out there and everyone knows it is a concern, but no one really has an answer on how to fix it."