Nantucket’s official year-round population is 14,255 people according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau figures released yesterday afternoon.
The new Census Bureau population figure for the island represents a 40 percent increase over the last Census count of 10,172 from 2010. On a percentage basis, Nantucket grew more than any other county in Massachusetts since the last Census a decade ago.
The new Census Bureau figures have been highly anticipated as they determine not only political representation, but also the amount of state and federal funding that comes back to Nantucket in many areas, including schools, transportation, childcare, and health insurance programs like Medicaid. In Massachusetts, it is estimated that for every additional person added to a community’s official Census population, it means another $2,400 in federal funding for that city or town.
Despite the significant increase recorded on Nantucket, many islanders responded to the announcement yesterday with skepticism, believing that Nantucket’s true year-round population is even larger. The new official Census number for the island is far below other recent estimates, including the analysis by the Nantucket Data Platform in 2017 that pegged Nantucket’s year round population at 17,200.
Island demographer Peter Morrison said Thursday that he too believes the new Census population figure for Nantucket is an undercount, just like the last count in 2010.
“It looks like the Town Clerk and I will be well positioned to contest an obvious undercount, as we did in 2010,” he said.
Morrison, who serves as co-president of the Nantucket Civic League, pointed to a paper he wrote in 2019 for the journal Population Research and Policy Review on determining the island’s effective population. “The key point, already apparent by then: The Census Bureau’s annual estimates of Nantucket’s total population were trailing the Town Clerk’s actual ‘Town Street List’ count of Nantucket’s officially resident population by an ever larger margin.”
Martha Tirk, who served as the administrator for the Nantucket 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, agreed with Morrison that the town should consider a challenge to the new Census figure.
“A 40 percent jump in the recorded population of our island is certainly significant, but it’s not the number I had hoped to see,” Tirk said. “There is a Census Bureau process in place that allows for municipalities to contest the results, and I hope the Town will do so for the benefit of all who live here.”
Andrew Vorce served as the chair of the island’s Complete Count Committee. The new population number for the island was a bit of a vindication, he said, as Nantucket representatives have been asserting a larger population on the island in conversations with state officials for years on a whole host of topics. But most importantly, he said, it means more funding coming back to the island for a range of programs, including schools and transportation.
“It’s significant and above all the projections by the state,” Vorce said of the new population figure. “We had been engaged in an argument with the state that their projections were low for us for some time. And that’s proven true with these numbers.”
The 40 percent increase from 2010 was not only a significant jump, Vorce said, but it was also recorded despite a significant portion of the Census survey process happening during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a challenging political climate in which some demographic groups were hesitant to be counted.
“I think our Census committee did a really good job,” Vorce said. :We made a concerted effort to get out and reach a lot of the different populations.”
The rise in the island’s population to 14,255 could also have implications for Nantucket’s town government in the years ahead. By passing the 12,000 person threshold, the island could adopt new forms of governance if it so chose, including a mayor / council format that was previously off limits.
In the weeks ahead, the Census Bureau will release additional data, including statistics on the racial and demographic breakdowns of individual communities, as well as housing numbers and more.