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Boomers ‘age’census stats

A Triangle Transit Authority, or TTA, bus arrives at Moore Square Transit Station in downtown Raleigh. Census data show an aging Triangle population may need more transportation options.
A Triangle Transit Authority, or TTA, bus arrives at Moore Square Transit Station in downtown Raleigh. Census data show an aging Triangle population may need more transportation options. cseward@newsobserver.com

New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau offer North Carolina leaders a challenge in terms of planning the state’s future, whether that means accommodating the needs of the increasingly older population or helping the different ethnic groups who are making the state more diverse find an easier way to immerse themselves in North Carolina culture while bringing characteristics of their own backgrounds to a more diverse state.

Census statistics ought to be closely watched by political leaders, not just for their own self-interest but to help map the state’s future.

The aging of the population is one example.

Some 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and that generation will continue to build the Medicare-eligible age group for a number of years. That’s not to say that the Triangle, for example, has “turned gray.” The median age in Wake County is 36 – young by any standard (except, perhaps that of millennials) but up from 34.2, according to the census. And that number is virtually certain to grow in coming years because the boomers are loosely defined as those born between 1946 and 1964.

Wake’s not alone. The median age in Durham County increased from 33.5 to 35.2. The median age in Orange County increased from 33.1 to 34.2.

There are challenges there: The boomers will need facilities to meet aging and health care needs, transportation options (as they quit driving), both individual and group living arrangement opportunities and help in making their money last longer than many ever thought they’d have to make it last.

Also challenging but exciting in the new census numbers are statistics showing much more diversity in race and ethnicity: Whites are still the largest race, at 63.5 percent in 2016, but that’s down from 65.3 percent in 2010. Blacks accounted for about 21.3 percent.

Interestingly, Hispanics grew in number, by 127,000 statewide since 2010, and now are nearing 1 million in population. They are in the highest percentages in rural, agriculture areas.

Asians also grew by big numbers in some spots, notably by 44 percent in Wake County.

Numbers are just numbers until they’re put into use by policy makers. And these numbers should be useful indeed as the Triangle copes with housing needs for all generations (Durham has a number of millennials working at high-tech companies, for example). The county also can use the numbers to make it a priority to generate ideas about coping with the needs of older citizens. Consider, for example, the push for more transportation options. Durham and Orange counties have some mass transit with plans for more, but the aging of the population – and get this, also the youth of the population, including people moving from elsewhere who prefer not to have cars – underlines the need for more options.

The younger folks moving in also want more bike trails and bike lanes. The folks getting older are drawn in part by the state-of-the-art health care facilities. They will need more transitional housing – something that seems to have been lost in the boom-boom-boom of huge homes and gentrification of old neighborhoods.

The various pressures make it necessary for local governments to focus more on affordable housing, on mass transit, even on health care and assistance for the elderly in terms of getting around or accessing meals.

The numbers bring challenges. And, we hope, opportunity.

Notable numbers

932,000 – Census estimate of Hispanic population in North Carolina, up by 127,000 since 2010

10,000 – Number of baby boomers who turn 65 every day

30.8 – Median age in Utah, the “youngest” state

44.6 – Median age in Maine, the “oldest” state

52.9 – Median age in Brunswick County, along the N.C. coast (a popular retirement area)

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