Tri-Cities residents older, working longer – population growth slow


The latest Census data shows Northeast Tennessee residents are older, working longer, living longer – but not always in good health. And demographically we’re where the rest of the nation will be in five or six years.

There are bright spots in last month’s population estimate for Tri-Cities Region. But those pinpoints of growth are barely enough to make for losses elsewhere. The three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has a current growth rate of 0.5% while the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA’s rate is negative. The seven-county Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) saw a net growth of 870 residents. Still things in NE Tenn.  are better than they are in SW Virginia, which has taken the biggest hit.

Washington, Hawkins, Carter, Sullivan, and Greene saw population growth according to the latest data. But some of that growth is so weak it doesn’t balance losses elsewhere. For example, the region’s largest county – Sullivan – saw an increase of six residents from the previous year.

Johnson and Unicoi counties lost population as did every county in the SW Va. portion of the Tri-Cities region.  The Coalfields is expected to lose 8% of its population by 2020, according to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service analysis.

The Baby Boom generation is largely responsible for this graying population trend, according to Peter Brosella, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Population Division. “Baby Boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and will continue to do so for many years to come,” he added. In SW Va. cheap natural gas choking the demand for coal has amplified the population decline.

Some back of the envelope calculations show that between 2016 and 2020 about 16 area residents will celebrate their 65th birthday every day. At the same time, another 15 will step across the 70 years-old threshold each day.

Carter County now holds the distinction of having the youngest median age in the region – 42.6 years.

Unicoi County is the senior at 46.6 years.

The median age in most areas of the nation increased in the latest estimate. On the state level, Maine is the oldest at 44.6 years while Utah is the youngest at 33.9 years. The nation’s median age has increased almost three years from 35 in 2000 to almost 38.

Here are some of the things that go with this trend:

Older adults are working longer, and the Census Bureau expects this to increase. In 2015 there were 95,825 workers 65 and older in the Tri-Cities labor force. At the same time, close to half of the working age population is not in the labor force.

Obesity is a major health issue. About 40% of the older population national wide is obese. The local population share is higher.

More seniors are divorced, and about 1-in-4 nationwide live alone.

The aging of the Baby Boomers could fuel a 75% increase in older adults requiring nursing home care. It also means Social Security and Medicaid expenditures will increase from a combined 8% of GDP in 2014 to 12% by 2050. In 2015 almost half of all the households in the seven-county Tri-Cities region received Social Security.

Here’s a capsule version of the latest county population estimate compared to 2015.

Carter Co.  – 56,502, up 72.

Greene Co. –  68,615, up 54.

Hawkins Co. – 56,563, up 120.

Johnson Co. – 17,754, down 67.

Sullivan Co. – 156,667, up 6.

Unicoi Co. – 17,719, down 101.

Washington Co. TN – 127,440, up 1,083.

Lee Co. – 24,179, down 533.

Scott Co. – 21,930, down 230.

Washington Co. VA – 54,214, down 80.

Wise Co. – 39,228, down 426.

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