America's Fastest-Aging Counties

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Lauren Sherman, 08.07.08, 2:00 PM ET


If you grew up in Union Parish, La., chances are you’ve since moved on.

The population of this quiet Northern Louisiana county hasn’t changed much since 1900.

You read right: 1900.

Think about it this way: There were 76 million people living in the U.S. at the beginning of the last century, and today there are 300 million. That’s a 295% increase over the last 108 years. In that same time period, Union Parish’s population has only increased by 4,253, or 23%. That means most people who are born there don’t stick around. The few who do stay have been able to keep the population from dwindling completely.

In Depth: America’s Fastest-Aging Counties
And since no one’s moving into the area, the average age of its residents is increasing, and the county’s tax base is contracting. From 2003 to 2005, the 65 and over population in the area increased by 7.08%, to 3,691, from 3,447. The overall population increased by virtually zilch: .01%. If fewer people are working full time, fewer people are paying taxes, which help to stimulate an economy.
Parish, which tops our list of America’s Fastest-Aging Counties, is just one example of a county whose population is getting older. On the coasts, in the Midwest and, most commonly, down South, rural areas are losing their people to opportunities in more vibrant metropolises.

Other counties on the list include Burke County, N.C., which is 119 miles outside of Greensboro. It saw nearly a 7% increase in the senior population in the past five years and just a .03% increase in overall population. Sitka City and Borough, Ala., 164 miles from Juneau, saw its senior citizen number increase 21.05%, to 1012, from 836. The overall population of the area is just 8,864, which increased by a measly .09% from 2003. That means no one–young or old–is moving to this county.

However, not every aging county is as remote. Bronx County, one of the five boroughs of New York City, ranked No. 10 on our list. While the overall population has barely increased, the number of senior citizens in the area has jumped by over 4%, to 144,266 in 2007, from 138,649 in 2003.

The Bronx’s aging population has to do mainly with out-migration. While thousands of people move to New York City year after year, very few of those folks go north to The Bronx. The population of those aged 15 to 54 in the county dropped to 617,897 in 2007, from 625,007 in 2003, a 1.2% decrease.

Behind The Numbers
To compile our list of America’s Fastest Aging Counties, we looked to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 population estimates, released today. We first determined the percent increase of residents 65 years and older in each county in the United States from 2003 to 2007. Then, we looked at the percent increase of the overall population in each county from 2003 to 2007. Finally, we created a ratio that compared the 65 and older segment to the total population in order to account for vast population differences from county to county.
In Scott County, Ind., the number of residents aged 65 and older grew 3.64%, to 20,457 in 2007, from 19,738 in 2003. The overall population is 46,033, which is a .03% jump from 2003. And in Bland County, Va., the overall population may have risen .25% to 6,883 in 2007, from 6,866 in 2003, but the senior population increased by much more: 11.63%, to 1161 in 2007, from 1,040 in 2,003.
This is generally not good news for the folks that live there. A quickly aging population can wreak havoc on a county’s economy.
“Generally, the largest amount of money spent on health care happens at the end of a person’s life,” says Pat Libbey, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of County and City Health Officials, a trade organization. “With a population that’s quickly aging, clearly there is going to be financial implications for those health systems.”

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