Berkshire County’s population fell as the state grew over the last decade, according to Census data released Thursday, but the county experienced a much smaller decline than pre-pandemic estimates had suggested.
Census counts show the county’s population fell from 131,219 to 129,026 between 2010 and 2020 – a 1.7 percent drop. During the same period, the Massachusetts population grew by 482,288, or 7.4 percent, to more than 7 million residents.
This census marks the smallest population drop Berkshire County has seen in decades. In every count after 1970, the county’s population had fallen by around 3 or 4 percent per decade.
Census estimates, which are updated yearly, had placed the population in the Berkshires below 125,000 as of 2019. But at least one report showed a significant population in-flow during the pandemic. Real estate data and anecdotal evidence also suggest that people moved to the county, either temporarily or permanently, during the public health crisis.
The census count ended in October 2020, which means the totals could be an undercount. Thomas Matuszko, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, suggested at a June legislative hearing that the count “happened before the full impact of the COVID-19 urban exodus could be accounted for.”
Census population counts help determine the distribution of federal aid to local governments, funding levels for several state programs and changes to legislative maps through the redistricting process.
Census Bureau data show significant population drops in North and Central County municipalities and gains in most South County towns.
Florida (694 residents), Windsor (831) and Washington (494) lost the most residents, according to the data, with each of those towns’ populations falling by more than 7 percent over the last decade. North Adams (12,961) also saw a more than 5 percent drop, while Pittsfield’s population (43,927) fell by just under 2 percent.
Meanwhile, several towns saw a significant influx, including Tyringham (427), Monterey (1,095), Becket (1,931), Egremont (1,372) and New Ashford (250). According to the Census bureau, Tyringham’s population jumped from 327 in 2010 to 427 in 2020.
RedistrictingThursday’s data release confirms predictions that Berkshire County districts in the Massachusetts Legislature will need to expand eastward.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has said House districts will include an average of just under 44,000 residents and Senate districts will number, on average, over 175,000 people. Boston, which gained 58,038 residents between the two counts, is due to gain a House seat.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who has previously chaired the House redistricting committee, told The Eagle he believes the acceptable range for House districts will be 41,740 to 46,133 residents. All four Berkshire districts, as currently drawn, fall under the low end of that range. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Berkshire districts are home to 38,294, 40,956, 40,989 and 39,595 people respectively, according to the Census data.
Pittsfield’s population fell by 810, for a total of 43,927 residents in 2020. If Mark’s district continues to include the 2,938 residents of Ward 1B in Pittsfield, then the 3rd Berkshire district represented by Democratic state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier may need to add population elsewhere.
With 148,923 residents, the Senate district that encompasses Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties falls nearly 30,000 residents short of the average Senate district.