Median age declines in 3 counties – blame it on newcomers


TRI-CITIES, Tenn.– We’ve all heard complaints about newcomers driving up local home prices and fears that they come with some political and cultural baggage that might take root here. While there may or may not be a smidgen of fact to those tropes, the Census Bureau’s latest age and population data offers a surprise newcomer benefit.

According to the Census estimates, the nation’s median age increased by 0.2 years between 2021 and 2022. “As the nation’s median age creeps closer to 40, you can really see how the aging of baby boomers, and now their children — sometimes called echo boomers — is impacting the median age. The eldest of the echo boomers have started to reach or exceed the nation’s median age of 38.9,” said Kristie Wilder, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Population Division. “While natural change nationally has been positive, as there have been more births than deaths, birth rates have gradually declined over the past two decades. Without a rapidly growing young population, the U.S. median age will probably continue its slow but steady rise.”

The local surprise is three local counties saw their benchmark median age decrease. Since the death rate exceeds the birth rate area wide, the most plausible explanation is the newcomers – many of them are retirees – that flocked to the area during and after the pandemic are a younger group of seniors than the local population.

The median age is the benchmark because it’s the point where half of the people are older, and half are younger. The average age offers a broader look at age, but it’s subject to skewing older due to the dominance of the Baby Boomers.

Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties are the three where the current estimated median age declined from the 2021 count.

Washington Co. Tenn. had the biggest decline. The median dropped to 40.5 years from 41 years. Washington is the only county that had newcomer data that included age. Those counties showed that about half of the new residents were under the age of 45. New residents in the typical age range for grad students and below were excluded from that breakdown to compensate for ETSU’s enrollment.

Sullivan Co.’s median dropped to 44.8 years from 45.1 years.

Unicoi Co. declined to 47.3 years from 47.4 years.

The other counties were in step with the national trend. Their median age increased, but not as fast as the 0.2 years average US growth. The local increase for all counties except Greene was 0.1 years. Greene was up 0.3 years.

Estimates show the region gained a little over 6,000 population between 2021 and 2022. That for the Johnson City – Kingsport- Bristol TN VA Combined Statistical Area (CSA) plus to counties. Greene and Johnson were added to the CSA total because they are part of the regional market even if it’s not part of the Census designation. The market’s estimated population in 2022 is a little over 611,000 people.

The increase is due to a net migration of almost 10,000 people. That total was adjusted to accommodate 8,653 deaths and 4,640 births.

Later this summer, Census will begin distributing more precise population and age data for the CSA with the 2022 American Community Survey. County data will show up toward the end of the year. Since the margin of error on the estimates is low big, revisions are not expected. The big unknown is how long the surge of new residents will continue and its effect on the county’s population and age status.