We heard from people everywhere about demographic changes in their communities, and a review of key data reflects this important theme. Our region faces an ongoing trend of population loss, concentrated among young adults and working-age families. At the same time, the share of older adults is rising, as is the number of minority and foreign-born residents. Over time, population loss has serious ramifications for the tax base, workforce and viability of schools—challenges we heard about frequently. The growing number of seniors bring complex health and service needs, with potentially fewer young people to help meet them. We heard people express encouragement that diverse new residents are a source of entrepreneurial energy who are helping to curb population loss by putting down roots. We also heard that social and structural barriers may prevent communities from fully supporting and integrating them.
Overall Population Decline
The residents of the Berkshire Taconic region are among its greatest assets. They are the current and future workforce, and by learning, working, growing, and making connections with one another, they strengthen our communities. But large swaths of rural America continue to struggle with declining populations.
Recent estimates by the American Community Survey show that our region has lost 2.5 people for every one person it has gained. Between 2000 and 2012 – 2016, Berkshire County saw a population loss of over 6,300 people, or 4.7%. Columbia County and the towns in Litchfield County had more modest population losses, at 2.0% and 1.9% respectively, with the only gain, of 2.4%, in our Dutchess County towns.
The story is mixed on a town-by-town basis, with about 40% of towns gaining and 60% losing population between 2000 and 2012 – 2016. By way of comparison, the U.S. population increased 13.1% during that time.
At 20% of the population, the concentration of people over 65 between 2012 – 2016 was higher in the region than in each of our three states (14.6% in New York, 15.0% in Massachusetts and 15.4% in Connecticut) or the U.S. overall (14.4%). In fact, all but five towns saw an increasing share of seniors, while the population under 18 shrank in all but one town.
The region overall remains predominantly white and non-Hispanic, with individual towns ranging between 85% and 100% white. But that is slowly changing. Between 2000 and 2012 – 2016, 60 of 67 towns and cities saw an increase in the number of non-white residents. In more than one-third of the region, the non-white population at least doubled during that time.
A clear trend in this increasing diversity is a rising Hispanic population, which as a whole has more than doubled, from 2% to more than 4%. The number of Hispanics tripled in the Dutchess County towns, where they make up nearly 10% of the population.
Finally, the number of foreign-born residents has increased substantially over the past 15 years, from about 10,000 residents to about 15,000.