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Some towns will win, others lose as CT struggles with low growth

 

Washington – While Connecticut’s population growth has slowed to a crawl, there will be shifts in the number of people who live in each of its 169 towns, with Sherman projected to lose nearly half its population by 2040 and Windham experiencing the biggest growth.

UConn’s Connecticut State Data Center used birth and mortality data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, as well as population and other data from the U.S. Census Bureau to develop projections of population trends in each Connecticut town.

Center demographers determined many towns will experience changes because of an aging population, a near net zero overall migration rate, and a relatively low, but stable, birth rate. The overall migration rate is the difference between the people leaving the state and those moving to Connecticut from somewhere else.

Windham, East Windsor, Avon, Oxford, Ellington, Sterling, Norwich, West Haven, Rocky Hill, and Manchester are projected to experience the largest percentage of increase in overall population from 2015 to 2040, the UConn demographers said.

Windham Mayor Ernie Eldridge said his town’s projections to grow — by more than 46 percent — “probably has to do with our Latino population.”

Both in Connecticut and nationally, the Hispanic population tends to be younger than the non-Hispanic white and black populations.

Eldridge said he welcomed growth “up to a point,” but does not want Windham ever to suffer the problems inherent to big cities.

Meanwhile, the towns of Sherman, New Fairfield, Bridgewater, Sharon, Monroe, Cornwall, Salisbury, Old Saybrook, Washington, and Weston are projected to experience the largest percentage of declines in overall population.

Sherman would experience a 45 percent drop in population — from about 3,279 to 1,803 — and Windham would grow by more than 47 percent to more than 38,000 by the year 2040.

Center demographer Michael Howser said there’s a larger margin of error in calculations for small towns like Sherman.

“The smaller the population, the greater the variable,” Howser said.

He also said towns that are slated to lose population will experience a gradual, not abrupt change in population.

“There will just be a slow evaporation in some of these towns,” he said.

Demographic trends often spur political decisions.

Sherman First Selectman Clay Cope said he’s aware of the aging of his town. He said Sherman has taken several steps to help its residents “age in place,” including reducing taxes for the elderly, changing zoning laws to allow those with larger yards to construct a cottage that could be used for a caretaker and allowing older residents to defer taxes to help them afford repairs and maintenance on their properties.

“People want to age in place,” Cope said. “That’s overwhelmingly what people want to do.”

Howser said that, in general, rural towns will be “the hardest hit.”

Meanwhile, towns that are growing, like Windham, tend to have a younger population and higher birthrate.

The center’s projections show that Hartford’s population would remain largely unchanged, growing by fewer than 2,000 residents.

But Bridgeport would expand by 6 percent, Fairfield by 13 percent and Stamford by 3 percent.

New London is also in the “winner’s column” with a projected growth rate of nearly 14 percent, as is New Haven, with 9 percent.

Changes in the state’s economy, urban development, transportation system  and political structure and other factors could scramble the picture.

But the overall demographic trend for Connecticut as a whole is one of very slow growth. While it is not among a handful of states that are losing population – like Rhode Island, Illinois and West Virginia, the U.S. Census Bureau said Connecticut has the slowest growth rate of any state in the nation, just .07 percent.

Brookings Institution demographer William Frey said states that have lost population, or have little growth, tend to have high costs of living, like Connecticut, California, and New York, or a faltering economy like the “Rust Belt” states.

Frey said there’s an increase in people leaving Connecticut  — and that has eliminated the chance of hefty gains resulting from the state’s birth rate or those moving to the state.

From July 2015 to July 2016, nearly 30,000 people left Connecticut, Frey said.

“What Connecticut needs to do is to keep attracting immigrants from other parts of the world,” Frey said. “New York City would have lost population if it were not for immigrants.”