Population study projects coming shifts in Franklin County
A first set of detailed population projections in a decade for Massachusetts shows Franklin County totals remaining essentially stable over the next 15 years, while the proportion of residents over 65 doubles, and the number of young adults shrinks.
The new projections, from the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute’s Populations Estimates Project, shows Franklin County losing about 2 percent of its 2010 population by 2030, while the state’s overall 4.4 percent growth over this time is slower than the national growth rate of 7.4 percent.
The projections, which extrapolate from recent American Community Service data drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau, are based on age populations that have migrated in and out of regions and the state overall. The data is presented for large regions of similar character, with Franklin and Hampshire counties grouped together and Hampshire and Hampden counties grouped together.
For smaller communities, the validity of the projections, which is based on historical trends over recent decades is limited, warns Susan Strate, the project manager. Extrapolating from losses between 2000 and 2010, and in some cases since 1990, Greenfield’s population is projected to shrink slightly, from 17,456 in 2010 to 17,067 in 2030. Neighboring Deerfield, meanwhile, shows a slight increase, from 5,125 to 5,789, while Orange shows an increase from 7,839 to 8,445.
Northampton is projected to lose a more significant 10.8 percent of its population by 2030, meanwhile .
Within all these populations, more importantly, the picture is one of a growing population of older residents and a shrinking of younger populations. For example, while Franklin County’s over-65 population is projected to more than double, from 15.2 percent in 2010 to nearly 31.5 percent in 2030, the under-20 population is estimated to shrink from 22 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2030.
The population segment between ages 25 and 60, shows a decrease from 49 percent in 2010 to 39 percent in 2030.
In fact, the county’s overall population is projected to grow slightly through 2015 before it begins to shrink, because of an in-migration of retiring baby boomers. That gain is seen as eventually eroding with increasing deaths associated with an the aging population.
The recent out-migration from the county reflected in the study is among teen and young adult groups, presumably leaving the region for college or to seek job prospects elsewhere. Along with that steady out-migration of those younger populations, the birth rate is also projected to decrease, according to the study’s authors.
The trend of an aging population, with a relatively stable population base has had Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ planners focused in their recent Franklin County Sustainable Master Plan on providing more “mixed-use districts,” with affordable, accessible housing and expanded transportation opportunities, said Planning Director Peggy Sloan.
“We also need to think about the impacts on school systems,” where declining school-age populations already has implications on budget projections and school buildings that already are shown to have excess capacity, Sloan said. “And we need to think about labor force considerations,” especially in having workers remaining in jobs longer.
An aging population would also seem to imply trying to ensure that Baystate Franklin Medical Center and health care providers remain in place in the county and that new businesses could be created to capitalize on the interest on the growing numbers of retirees, she said.
One benefit of having a larger number of retirees with more time available, Sloan said, is that area towns that struggle to fill board positions may more easily find people to volunteer.
“Given increasing age expectancies,” Sloan said, “even if somebody retires at 65, they’re probably going to be active in their communities for another 15 or 20 years.”
The new projections, which also have planners in Hampshire and Hampden counties concerned about a shrinking workforce available to attract employers to the Pioneer Valley, are simply projections based on past trends.
Those could be affected, Sloan said, by expanded access to broadband, which would allow for more telecommuting in the region, as well as by expansion of passenger rail, which would allow people from outside the region who might want to have second homes in Franklin County to which they could then retire.
Another impact, she said, could be climate change, driving some population from coastal areas to move further inland.
Strate also noted that a “huge factor” in what population growth Massachusetts has seen, particularly among younger age brackets, has been from international immigrants. A change in immigration policy at the national level could have an impact on the future of that population statewide.
One caveat in the projections, which its authors emphasize is based on recent trends in births, deaths and migration, is the data used was collected largely between 2005 and 2010, a period of both relative economic stability and severe recession that may not reflect future trends of people leaving or entering the region.
On the Web: http://pep.donahue-institute.org
You can reach Richie Davis a: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269