Drastic drop in births, aging population a concern for Lenox


LENOX -- One out of three town residents is now 65 or older, according to the just-completed annual town census that found total population only slightly lower than last year despite a drastic drop in births to local moms.

With its concentration of senior living facilities, Lenox residents are, on average, by far the oldest of any town in the county, according to a U.S. Census analysis. Just under 20 percent of the Berkshire County population is 65 and older, a 2012 U.S. Census profile reported.

Births to town families totaled only 14 in 2013, down from 23 the previous year. There were 103 deaths, according to Town Hall records.

Residents 35 and under numbered 1,366, compared to 1,803 seniors. The decline in the community's local young family population has been reflected by a steady drop in public school enrollment here over the past decade.

Total population of 5,383, updated last week, shows a decline of 50 people since the beginning of 2013.

"The census, which changes daily, is just a tool that people can interpret different ways," said Town Clerk Jen Picard, who compiles the numbers with other Town Hall workers.

As for the 65-and-over statistic -- 34 percent of total Lenox residents -- as well as the low birth rate, "that's a little scary, isn't it," Picard acknowledged. "It's a trend, and it sounds like it's all across Berkshire County."

"We've always had older people," she pointed out, "because this area draws older people, and it's too bad we can't draw some of the younger ones. But people leave because we don't have industrial jobs and we don't have a lot of manufacturing. It would be great if we did."

"You see New Yorkers and Boston-area people who spend time up here because they can take care of business at home," Picard said.

"They come when they can make enough money to afford a second home or come out here for the summer," she explained. "As they get older and retire, that's probably part of what's doing it."

But the availability of high-speed Internet in Lenox and some of the county's other communities could alter the mix, she commented, since more people could telecommute at least part of the week, even if their jobs are in distant urban centers.

Although Town Hall does not keep precise records on the percentage of seasonal residents, about one-quarter of the town's properties are believed to be occupied by part-timers.

"We're not a dying town at all," Picard emphasized. "People have been saying that for years but it would be great to have younger people to boost our school population and help us pay for our old age."

The total population peaked at 6,523 in 1980 because of an influx of about 1,200 parishioners of the Bible Speak Church living on the organization's property off Kemble Street (now Shakespeare & Company) and nearby. The departure of the group in 1987 after the organization, widely described as a cult, declared bankruptcy was reflected in a census decline of nearly 25 percent by 1990.

Although recent local totals are higher than the U.S. Census reports compiled every 10 years, that's because Town Hall record-keeping is more precise. "Any town clerk will tell you that," Picard observed.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

Lenox population trends

n 2014: 5,383

n 2013: 5,432

n 2010: 5,025

n 2000: 5,077

n 1990: 5.069

n 1980: 6,523

n 1970: 5,804

n 1960: 4,253

n 1950: 3.627

n 1900: 2.942

n 1850: 1,599

Sources: U.S. Census, except 2013, 2014 (town census)


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