The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 16, 2013

Fewer children, more gray hair

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — The Valley’s population has gotten grayer over the past two years as has the number of Pennsylvanians age 65 and over, which has passed 2 million for the first time.

Pennsylvania’s elderly population has grown 4.3 percent since 2010 and accounted for 16 percent of the state’s population in 2012, according to the data. There are 12,763,536 Pennsylvanians; of them, 2,042,861 are over 65.

Three of four Valley counties have a higher percentage of seniors than the state average. Montour and Northumberland counties average 19 percent of their populations in the 65-plus range, and Snyder, 16.2.

“Pennsylvania is on the forefront of graying states,” said John Maurer, of the Pennsylvania State Data Center at Penn State Harrisburg.

“Most of the state is reflecting that,” he said, adding Pennsylvania naturally tends to be a slow-growing state.

Nationally, Pennsylvania is fourth in the percentage of residents 65 and over, trailing Florida, Maine and West Virginia.  

This will prove a real test for programs such as Medicare, Social Security and programs for the aging. The data center projections through 2040 show the state will remain in the top five for older people based on population statistics.

Montour is the only Valley county that saw population growth from 2010 to 2012, according to the statistics. In two years, Montour County grew by 89 people, or by 0.5 percent, to a population of 18,356.

Northumberland and Snyder counties lost 0.1 percent in population, and Union County had no change. These three are among 36 counties that had either flat or declining numbers.

But little to no change over two years means stability, Maurer said.

“People often look for big leaps or drops in population,” but steady numbers reveal a consistent population number that can be good for business and industry, he said.

On the other side of the age scale, 16 percent of Pennsylvania’s population was between the ages of 5 and 17 in 2012, a drop of 42,934 children, or 2.1 percent, since 2010.

The Keystone State is seventh nationally in terms of the percent decline in this population bracket between 2010 and 2012.

Only five Pennsylvania counties saw an increase among young residents, including Snyder County, at 0.6 percent.

That, too, is indicative of Pennsylvania in general, Maurer said.

In areas like central Pennsylvania, “There really is nowhere to work professionally. ... The young people migrate out,” he said.

Notably, sections of Pennsylvania that saw the most growth are in the southeast, Maurer said, where many young professionals will look for work and settle with their families.

Lehigh County is Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing county in the past two years with an increase of 5,478 people, or 1.6 percent.

n Email comments to esocha@dailyitem.com.