2022 State of the County Report Reveals Higher Incomes, More Mental Illnesses / iBerkshires.com
BERKSHIRE COUNTY, Mass. – The State of the County Report 2022 shows an increase in income and a decrease in unemployment, but also an increase in mental illness and family distress.
More than 100 Berkshire County individuals and community organizations have worked over the past two years to identify indicators that track the region’s performance in eight sectors: economy, education, environment, government, health, housing, social environment and transport. .
Berkshire Benchmarkswhich is an initiative of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, was tasked with identifying these areas and then highlighting the indicators within them.
The report was released in May and was accompanied by an event at the Berkshire Innovation Center. GIS, Data and IT Manager Mark Maloy summarized the findings to the USRO on Thursday.
“It’s what I think is a really good product that (Maloy) has been working on for about a year and a half and it’s still a bit under development on some of those things,” executive director Thomas Matuszko said.
“But the Berkshire Benchmarks have been around for a number of years, and primarily as a data repository. So if you haven’t looked at the Benchmarks, you really should, because it’s a one-stop shop unique for all or most of the data that you will need in a community and (Maloy) revamped it last year, and also added another element besides the data, our indicators that we intend to track over time to measure change in Berkshire County.
Sectors have come together throughout 2020 and 2021 to whittle down a list of 300 potential indicators to 82, with 32 designated as key indicators. A survey was distributed in January which generated over 3,000 responses.
Maloy said it should be kept in mind that it takes several years for data to be released at the county or municipal level, which means that the information in the report is the latest data available as of April. and that many datasets do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Berkshire Benchmarks will measure the impact of the pandemic on the region and how it is recovering as more data is released.
The report showed that Berkshire County has seen a 27% increase in median household income since 2010. The 2020 median household income for the county is just over $62,000, while it is greater than $84,000 for the state.
“The state and the nation continue to be above the county, so we have some catching up to do, but we are improving,” Maloy said,
“Our revenues were relatively stable until 2015, but have since started to increase, so this is good news for the region.”
The county’s unemployment rate dropped from 2010 to 2019, then predictably increased in 2020 due to the pandemic. The region’s unemployment rate was 9.1% in 2020 and fell to 6.5% in 2021.
“We know that March 2020 rates continued to decline to 4.9 and then declined further in April to, I think, around 4.5,” Maloy added.
“We are still above the 2019 rate of 3.7, but we are rapidly approaching it and hopefully by the end of the year we will reach it.”
With the increase in income has also come a decrease in poverty. The county’s rate dropped 4% between 2013 and 2020. According to local social service organizations, that number has since increased during the pandemic.
Measurements for 2021 show county residents have deteriorating mental health and more family distress. Berkshire County’s rate for poor mental health days fell from 3.4 days in 2013 to 5 days. There were over 1,100 recycling orders in 2021, representing a 21% increase since 2015.
The number of opioid-related deaths has increased dramatically, from four in 2010 to 56 in 2020.
Maloy said housing is one area where the indicators don’t reflect the county’s current situation, as it showed a surplus of low-income housing units and a deficit of moderate-middle-income housing.
Since the start of the pandemic, housing prices have skyrocketed and it is now believed that there is a shortage of low, middle and middle income housing as well as housing quality issues.
The report also showed racial and ethnic disparities in household incomes and poverty rates. White residents saw their income rise 27% from 2010 to 2020, while black residents saw a 13% drop before inflation adjustments.
The Berkshire NAACP report on redlining supports those findings, Maloy said, which shows 72.5% of white families own homes compared to just 28.5% of black families.
Windsor delegate Doug McNally reacted to findings that showed children were struggling in school after the pandemic began. Third-grade English proficiency rates fell 4% between 2019 and 2021 and eighth-grade math proficiency rates fell 18.4% between 2018 and 2021.
“My concern is that the whole COVID thing has seriously damaged the early childhood education community in Berkshire County,” McNally said.
“We’ve lost a lot of early childhood programs, young families are struggling to find quality early childhood education, so I think as a planning commission we really need to dig deeper into how this is going be corrected.”
Sheffield substitute Rene Wood appreciated the effort.
“I think it’s really an overwhelming effort that you’ve presented to us tonight,” she said, adding that the data will make her job of writing grants much easier.
Key words: USRA, county report,