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Rep. Mark Unpacks Census Results: Mass. Grows, But Berkshire County Continues To Shrink

A bearded white man speaks while seated at a table with a brick wall behind him and a mic with a WAMC logo on it in front of him
Josh Landes
Massachusetts State Representative Paul Mark.

Massachusetts State Representative Paul Mark represents the 2nd Berkshire District, a sprawling rural region that spills over from the Berkshires into Northern Franklin County. During the national census effort last year, the Democrat was a vocal advocate for the count as chair of the House Redistricting Committee. With information from the census emerging, Mark says he’s confident in the accuracy of the results. Mark spoke with WAMC about where and why Massachusetts is growing, and why he wasn’t shaken by news that Berkshire County continues to shrink.

MARK: All in all, considering the numbers that exist, we did a good job. Better than anyone thought in Western Massachusetts. And in as a state, there was a lot of concern that there was going to be the potential of an undercount in some of the student populations, maybe in Amherst and Cambridge and the Boston area. And the numbers that came in were still better than we expected and look like the schools and the communities did a good job getting that population. So the good news for the state was the state population grew, it came in over 7 million people, which was better than we thought. We didn't lose a member of our congressional delegation, which was important. And the city of Boston grew, I think, about 55,000 people, which is solid. A little less than expected. But I think, again, not really impacted by the concerns we all had that COVID would change some of the reporting. So all that being said, Western Mass did better than expected. But we still didn't do as great as Eastern Massachusetts. We didn't keep pace with the statewide average. And so there is some concern with what things are going to look like after out here in the West.

WAMC: Now, looking specifically at Berkshire County, what exactly was the drop off actually like more specifically?

So we thought that the decline was going to be somewhere between 3.5% and 4%, and it was closer to 2%, the numbers that I saw. So, it's a decline, it's a continuation of trends that have been going on for a little bit of a while. And it's not as good as we hoped, in that we always hope that we could keep pace with the rest of the state. We know that the Berkshires are a beautiful place to live and that people want to come out here and should want to come out here. And I think if they were taking the census this year or even next year, that we would show a little more growth than we did, because I think in response to the pandemic, a lot of people have been starting to come on here and look for places in a more rural community and maybe a different environment than they're used to in some of the big cities. And with the internet project kind of advancing, there's a lot more opportunity. What I would say is that we have a lot of work to do over the next nine years to make sure that Western Massachusetts does show some kind of growth, because we can't let this decline in population continue under the census, under the way the census works, where there's almost as competition between regions to try to grow so that you protect your voice in the legislature and that you protect your voice when it comes to some of the funding that's out there and available that comes through formulas.

What does this mean for districts in Massachusetts? What will be changing when the lines are drawn again?

Yeah, so the baseline districts for the House, the Senate, and the US House of Representatives, are going to go up. If you divide by 160 in the House and you take that number, and you multiply it by .95%, because the representative districts and the senate districts can vary by 5% from the from the baseline, you're looking at a minimum district on the House side of about 41,740 people, which is larger than the baseline districts, the minimum baseline districts 10 years ago. And then you go over to the Senate, you divide by 40, and you're looking at a range there of somewhere between like 166,000 and 175,000. And then the congressional districts are going to grow. There's only nine. You divide that, and they have to be more precise and to be within 100 voters of each other, you're looking at growth from like 727,000 to up to like 766,000. So all the baseline districts are going to increase and the minimums are going to increase. And so places where growth was high, you're going to expect either districts that come in on the high end of some of the counts. So if the minimum is 41,740 the maximum is somewhere 46,900 or so. So you would look for places with population increases to kind of hit that high end of the district range. And then in places where population either grew slowly or kind of decreased, you try that you try to keep the baseline districts on the low end, that way we can maximize our representation.

Were there any demographic trends that you saw that that stood out to you from the census results, both specifically in Western Massachusetts and then also statewide?

So I haven't personally seen those numbers yet. The way the census numbers are being released, they let out what they're calling legacy numbers, which I think is the first time they've ever done that. And they did it in mid-August to kind of reflect that there was a delayed timeline from the expected timeline. And the first numbers I saw were actually really hard to put into an Excel spreadsheet and look at but you could get the basics for every community, every county. So that being said, the official release doesn't actually happen until September 30th. But I've been starting to see a trickle out of some of the demographic information and the only information I personally have heard is that the Hispanic community is increasing in Massachusetts, which I think makes a lot of sense. It reflects some of the immigration trends and the population trends of who's moving into Massachusetts and who's choosing to make a home here. And I think it's going to maximize some of the impact of the voice in the community, which is great.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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