BERLIN, N.H. (AP) – Despite the tough economic times facing the Berlin-Gorham area, residents remain optimistic about the future, according to a new survey.

The survey said Coos County is at a point of fundamental change as the region looks to create a new economy to replace the loss of forest-based jobs.

The impact of the current changes has hit particularly hard at residents described as in the “middle” – in age and income.

Thirty-five percent of those from the Berlin-Gorham area said they are financially worse off than they were five years ago; 32 percent said they are about the same. Only a third said they are better off now.

Despite those figures, 52 percent said they feel the valley will be a better place in 10 years. Twenty-eight percent predicted it will be worse.

The survey was conducted by Chris Colocousis of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Colocousis interviewed 1,000 adults in Coos County and 750 in Oxford, Maine, last year for his survey, “Community and Environment in Rural America.” He previewed some of his findings at Wednesday’s meeting of the Berlin master plan subcommittee.

The Casey study complemented the data collected by city consultants Jeff Taylor and Steve Whitman for the master plan update. The subcommittee has been working on the demographics chapter for the master plan update.

Both the study and master plan note the decline in Berlin’s population since it peaked at 20,018 in the 1920s. There was some growth in population in the seventies, but that was followed by two decades of decline.

The Carsey study details the decline in manufacturing that has occurred over the last four decades in Coos County. In 1969, 34 percent of jobs were in manufacturing. By 2005, the figure had dropped to 10 percent. The percentage of earnings from pulp and paper mills during that same time period went from 36 to 11 percent. Colocousis said those statistics do not include the most recent mill layoffs at Wausau Papers and Fraser Papers.

The master plan data shows the medium household income for Berlin is well below the state average. The average for Berlin is $29,647, compared to $49,467 for the state.

In 2000, 12.4 percent of the Berlin population was considered to be living below the poverty level, nearly twice the state average. The master plan also shows the average household size in Berlin has declined to 2.2 people, smaller than both the state and national average size.

Some of the drop in household size is attributed to an aging population. The master plan shows the median age in Berlin is 42.5, compared to a median age of 37.1 for the state and 35.3 nationally. Both the study and master plan data show an out-migration of young people 20-29.

Colocousis said his final report will be out next month.

Information from: The Berlin Daily Sun,

AP-ES-04-12-08 1107EDT

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