Our Opinion: Stand up and be counted in Census

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With the critically important 2020 census looming comes the news that the population of the Northeast declined in 2019 for the first time in the decade. Our region, comprised of nine states with much in common in spite of differences in population size and economic strengths, risks continuing to lose its political influence to other regions, and an accurate 2020 census will be critical to at least limiting the damage.

While the Northeast region only lost about a tenth of one percent of its population, the trend is worrisome as it comes at a time when every other region experienced at least modest growth in population. Declines in domestic migration (people moving away) were higher in the region than the combination of people who moved into the state or were born in the state, minus deaths. Massachusetts, whose population went from 6.88 million to 6.92 million, was one of 40 states to have a population increase but it was one of the smallest. Increases in births relative to deaths and people moving into the state were all but negated by people leaving the state. And all indications are that the modest population growth in the state was concentrated in Boston and surrounding communities. (The Census is yet to release full population figures by counties and municipalities.)

These numbers emphasize what is at stake in the 2020 census. While it is unlikely that Massachusetts will lose a congressional seat as it did after 2010, resulting in the disappearance of the Berkshire-centric seat held by Rep. John Olver, the Census could lead to even larger districts for state Rep. Paul Mark of Peru and state Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield. The Census figures are also used to determine how much federal grant money is awarded to Berkshire communities. Whatever numbers are determined, the county, as well as the state and region, will have to live with them for a decade.

Secretary of State William Galvin, who is the Census Liaison for Massachusetts, has been emphasizing the importance of a full count in Western Massachusetts, as rural areas are the most likely areas to be undercounted. The Berkshire Complete Count Committee met last month with The Eagle to explain how it and its team of volunteers will try to assure that traditionally hard-to-count populations — renters, the mobile young, minorities, and low income residents — are included in the data. These residents have nothing to fear from being included in the Census, and because they benefit disproportionately from government grants, they have the most to gain by being included in the Census.

We urge every Berkshire resident (a residence is defined as where an individual lives most of the time, and those serving in the military are residents of their home states) to fill out a Census form. If you live here, you matter.

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