A Moment of Silence for Our 12 Lost Residents

The US Census Bureau just released 2016 population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas in the US. It’s no surprise that the Pioneer Valley has overall remained virtually unchanged, with a total population in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties of 700,665 people. That compares to an estimated population of 700,677 in 2015. That’s right – the Pioneer Valley lost 12 people last year. 

Population growth rate
Source: US Census Bureau 1-Year Estimates

This relatively stable population in the region is somewhat uneven across the three counties. Hampshire County (in green), which includes Amherst and Northampton, has shown consistent population growth year after year. Hampden County (in red), which includes Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield, has had mostly positive population growth, except for 2016.

pioneer valley

But Franklin County – that’s the very sparsely populated county bordering Vermont that includes Greenfield – shows consistent population loss year after year since 2012. I’m not sure why, but I know that Franklin County has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and the sparse population means that a lot of people end up commuting pretty far to get to work.

In general across the country, rust belt areas and rural places have been shedding population, while major cities and the suburbs surrounding them have been gaining. This trend is also playing out here in the Pioneer Valley. You can see in this map put together by the Census Bureau showing which counties people are migrating from/to.

migration map

Domestic migration is when people move from one county in the US to another county in the US – it is not reflective of international immigration, nor population increases from births. The big winners in domestic migration tend to be in the southeast and west, and especially Florida. Though it should be noted that Hampshire County does show a modest level of in-migration.

My two questions on this recent data release are this:

  1. Shouldn’t I be thankful that there isn’t a surge of people flocking here? I just today saw a post on Facebook about a friend in Portland, Oregon whose house is being flipped, and so she’s going to have to find another rental. And it’s virtually unheard of in a bar or restaurant to have to wait for a table or cocktail.
  2. How long will this stagnation continue? I look at environmental stressors, especially water availability in the southwest and coastal hazards from climate change, and see the Rust Belt as prime real estate over the next several decades.

Of course, only time will answer these questions. Until then, I’ll continue enjoying the relatively light traffic, easy access to open spaces, and the high quality friends and neighbors who have already seen the light and chosen to call the happy valley home.