The latest U.S. Census data show Pennsylvania’s population keeps aging much faster than the rest of the country.
Already, 16 percent of Pennsylvanians are seniors.
That’s the fourth-highest percentage nationally. Only Maine, Florida and West Virginia are higher.
The Commonwealth’s number of post-retirement-age people also grew 30 times as fast as working-age adults during the past three years, according to a Keystone Crossroads analysis of census data.
Policymakers and researchers like Penn State professor Bev Cigler pay attention those groups in particular.
“There’s always been concern because it’s that younger workforce that pays and provides a lot of the benefits for the older population,” Cigler says.
Senior populations are growing most dramatically in the Commonwealth’s rural counties, according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center’s research brief on the new Census numbers.
Those counties also have the smallest populations, so statistics don’t necessarily allow comparisons statewide.
But Cigler cautioned against discounting the numbers completely.
“Those people who are in those counties will need services, so there are big concerns,” she says.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s director Barry Denk says delivering services often becomes cost-prohibitive in regions that are sparsely populated and geographically isolated.
He says innovatoins in healthcare and other fields must continue.
He pointed to the practice of having patients self-report their own vitals online as an example of that already happening.
The biggest shifts among working age adults happened mainly in areas that are rural, but more populous than Potter, Cameron, Sullivan and Forest counties where senior populations grew most, according to the Data Center brief.
The number of 18-to-64-year-olds dropped in 49 of 67 Pa counties, most noticeably in Clarion, Greene, Cameron and Cambria counties, the brief stated.
Cambria County was the most populous at about 145,000 residents and includes the Act 47 city of Johnstown, where community leaders have been lamenting “brain drain” since for more than two decades.
“Tons of younger people are leaving this part of the country, and going to the southwest and southeast. That’s where more and more of the jobs are,” Cigler says. “A state like Pennsylvania, the decline in manufacturing is so severe. These kinds of changes are decades and decades in the making, and it’s hard to come back once you get behind.”
The number of Pennsylvanians between the ages of 18 and 64 has grown by less than a quarter of a percent since 2010, compared to national growth of 2 percent during that time, according to the Keystone Crossroads analysis.
The biggest gains happened in and around Philadelphia, which is the fifth-largest city in the U.S., according to the Data Center’s brief
Other, smaller Rust Belt cities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have watched their workforces decline, Cigler says.
Overall, the U.S. isn’t aging as quickly as 18 other countries included in a Pew Research Center report published earlier this year.
But researchers concluded that social and economic implications could be greater because relatively fewer Americans are concerned about it.