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State reps stress how important census is

GREAT BARRINGTON — As towns throughout Southern Berkshire County begin appointing members to a would-be 24-member planning board in discussing the potential merger of Southern Berkshire and Berkshire Hills school districts, the matter of the county’s declining population once again shifts to the spotlight.
And with the 2020 census less than a year away, state and local representatives have begun to bring awareness to how important it is to provide a proper count of the county’s population.
Last Friday, Dec. 13, state Reps. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Paul W. Mark, D-Peru, hosted a forum at Claire Senior Center.
The U.S. Census Bureau performs as the federal government’s largest statistical agency, dedicated to providing updated facts about the country’s people, places and economy. The census is conducted every 10 years.
“The U.S. Census provides a snapshot of our nation that helps determine where to build new schools and business and how federal funding is distributed,” said Pignatelli. “That’s why it’s so important to get it right, because we’ll be stuck with it for 10 years.”
In an especially rural county, it’s important to let people know how the process will be unfolding, he added.
Mark, who serves as the chairman of House’s redistricting committee, has led several community forums throughout the Commonwealth. Mark says that William Francis Galvin, secretary of the Commonwealth and liaison for the 2020 census, has emphasized that this may be the most difficult census yet.
Among the obstacles outlined at the forum was the fact that many residents in the especially rural Berkshire County do not receive mail at their home address. For many residents in Housatonic, Stockbridge and Lenox Dale, mail comes via a post office box, said Pignatelli.
One resident in attendance also noted that the mail might actually be coming into another community and offered up concern about what community the census would count that resident in.
The U.S. Census Bureau is only concerned with a person’s physical home address, according to Mark Sebastino, partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Areas that are less likely to respond online will receive a paper questionnaire along with their invitation between March 12 and March 20, he said. The invitation will also include information about how to respond online or by phone. Ninety-five percent of households will receive their census invitation in the mail, he added.
A reminder letter will be sent out between March 16 and March 24. For those that do not respond during that time, a postcard reminder will be sent out between March 26 and April 3.
“There are a multitude of reasons why people don’t respond,” said Sebastino. “Some are afraid to share information.”
For the many that don’t respond, Pignatelli stressed the fact that federal law protects the confidentiality of all individual responses collected by the Census Bureau.
Almost 5 percent of households will receive their census invitations when a census taker drops it off. In these areas, the majority of households may not receive mail at their home’s physical location, like households that use post office boxes ore areas recently affected by disasters.
Fewer than 1 percent of households will be counted by a census taker, instead of being invited to respond on their own.
According to Sebastino, an estimated 5 percent of children under the age of 5 were not counted in the 2010 census, which translates to about 1 million young children – the highest of any age group.
Another challenge that was reiterated was the large population of second-home owners and snowbirds in Berkshire County.
“Those that spend five months and 29 days here are not counted. I wish there was a way to account for them, but there isn’t,” said Pignatelli. “They’re counted at their primary address.”
Another result of previous a previously conducted census was the loss of an entire congressional district, which belonged to U.S. Rep. John Olver, said Mark.
Massachusetts U.S. District No. 1 is now the largest in the Commonwealth. The district covers one-third of the state and spans all of Berkshire County as well as portions of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties.
But Mark says he’s hopeful that this census will reflect a more accurate picture for Massachusetts. An estimate for 2018 shows that the Commonwealth has seen more than a 5 percent increase in its population, to more than 6,900,000 people. The highest areas of growth, however, are near Boston, said Mark.
Berkshire County, on the other hand, is estimated to have seen a 3.75 percent decline in its population for 2018. That loss, he said, totals to around 4,871 people, bringing an estimated population for the county to 126,348.
In 2010, the county had a population of 131,219 people.
Great Barrington is also estimated to have seen a decline of more than 250 people, bringing its estimated population total to around 6,852 people for 2018, he said. In 2010, the town had a population of 7,104 people.
In the meantime, the U.S. Census Bureau is still looking to collect 833 applications for census takers. At this point, Sebastino says they’ve collected 400 applications.
For more information, visit 2020census.gov/en/jobs.

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