The data regarding Massachusetts’ population trends is confusing, and sometimes contradictory.

I have always been of the mind that Massachusetts may be losing population, but that this is mostly due to a soft job market, not because of high housing prices.

I formed my opinion after looking at Massachusetts employment data (we have had a higher unemployment rate than the national average since January 2004) and US Census Bureau data, which shows that the majority of people leaving the state over the past four years were young (24-35) and, at least in Boston, overwhelmingly female (19,000 of the 22,000 people who are estimated to have emigrated between 2000 and 2004).

But, in fact, the US Census Bureau’s data is contradictory, to begin with, mostly because, I believe, they are estimating population, not actually counting people.

As Kyle Warwick, director at Spaulding & Slye says in an op-ed piece in today’s Globe says:

The Census Bureau’s 1999 population estimate was below the actual population count of 2000. The “error of closure” was approximately 8 percent.

The Census had reported similar population losses between 1990 and 1999 and then a dramatic 8 percent increase in 2000. This was not the case. Rather, the Census had built up a cumulative undercount over those years and the error became apparent with the actual population count in 2000.

Why does it matter whether or not there was a population loss, to begin with?

Because, different groups use that information, in different ways, mostly to support and promote their own agendas (and I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way).

For example, the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University (CRAP) uses the data in order to push for their idea that more affordable housing should be built in Massachusetts, affordable housing paid for by the state, and, according to some critics, affordable housing that is being forced on local communities.

And my agenda? I have a healthy distrust for just about anyone, especially those in power or with the the ability to influence people.

For example, look at the Globe’s latest analysis of the Census numbers. The reporter says that Massachusetts lost 19,000 residents, between 2004 and 2005.

But, then she says, later:

The latest estimates measured domestic migration rates, and not overall population, and so do not include new immigrants or overall birth rates.

As far as I can see, the reporter is using two different sets of data.

Here’s a real funny thing.

I did a quick Google search on “Massachusetts population estimate july 2005” and found a population chart released by the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, also based on US Census Bureau data, which reports that Massachusetts population did NOT decrease, at all, between 2000 and 2005.

In fact, our population increased, from 6,349,000 to 6,398,000 people.

Hmmm. Confusing.

More information:

Boston’s overstated ‘exodus’ – By Kyle Warwick, The Boston Globe

Home costs are called a drag on state growth – By Kimberly Blanton, The Boston Globe

Bay State exodus 2d only to N.Y. – By Stephanie Ebbert, The Boston Globe

Time Series of State Population Estimates: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2005 – Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training

Massachusetts population estimates, 2000 and 2004
– US Census Bureau

Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University

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Updated: January 2018


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