The Corner

The Northeast Is Getting Older

The Washington Post has an interesting story about how states in the Northeast have lost many residents over the years and as a result their population is getting older.

Today, eight of the top 11 states with the oldest populations are in the Northeast. The median age in Maine is 42.7 years old; in Vermont and New Hampshire it’s above 41. West Virginia’s population has aged precipitously, too, with a median age of 41.3 years, 8.4 years older than it was in 1990.

Twenty years ago, the picture was much different. The 1990 Census listed Florida residents as the oldest in the nation, at a median age of 36.2 years. West Virginia was the second-grayest state; there, the median age stood at 35.3 years old.

In the intervening two decades, baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, began marching toward retirement. Boomers are less likely to move around the country than younger Americans, who, affected by the recession and the drop in economic opportunities in the Northeast and the Rust Belt, have moved en masse to Southern and Western states. Those factors have sent the median age of Northeastern states soaring.

Older states are starting to feel the squeeze. In Maine, more than 1,500 seniors are on waiting lists for a state Medicaid program and home care services; by 2030, more than 25 percent of the state’s residents will be older than 65, according to data compiled by the Portland Press-Herald. More than 18,000 Mainers are turning 65 every year, the AARP reported.

In Tennessee, where the median age has risen 4.5 years in the past two decades, 22 percent of the state’s population will be older than 65 by 2020. That figure is more than a 50 percent increase over current levels.

This trend has significant impact on the states’ medical, housing, and transportation budgets. As the Post explains, states with a higher percentage of seniors will be forced to dedicate higher percentages of their budgets to social services while at the same time they will have smaller tax bases to draw from.

As a result, in many states, officials are looking to attract younger people. In New Hampshire and Vermont, the Democrats who control the governor’s mansions believe that more government spending for state universities in particular will do the trick. I doubt it. More spending, often means more taxes, which isn’t a good way to keep people. What you need to attract and keep people is jobs.

In Maine, Republican governor Paul LePage’s solution is to lower its tax burden and create a “business-friendly” state. That’s more likely to work. You may remember that one of the main findings in the Mercatus Center’s “Freedom in the Fifty States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom” was that people followed jobs and jobs followed freedom (in particular economic freedom). A while back I explained the results of the study over at the Washington Examiner:

In the study, economists Jason Sorens and William Ruger created a ranking of the freest to the least-free states in the country based on three public policy dimensions affecting economic, social and personal freedoms. The most interesting finding, however, is that when controlling for climate and other variables, all three dimensions of freedom are positively correlated to migration, but the results are exceptionally strong for economic (fiscal and regulatory) freedom. . . .

In other words, people tend to move to economically freer states. One explanation is that economic freedom tends to be a fairly good indicator of prosperity. As my colleague Matt Mitchell noted:

“The economists Chris Doucouliagos and Mehmet Ali Ulubasoglu recently reviewed 45 studies examining the freedom-growth relationship. They concluded: ‘[R]egardless of the sample of countries, the measure of economic freedom and the level of aggregation, there is a solid finding of a direct positive association between economic freedom and economic growth.’” More economic growth usually means more jobs, and jobs are what attract people.

It will be interesting to see if an actual increase in economic freedom in the form of lower taxes in Maine does help the state keep and attract jobs, and then younger workers.

Incidentally, while it is more pronounced in northeastern states, the nation as a whole is aging:

Census Bureau estimates suggest up to 72 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2020, more than twice as high as in 2000. The elderly growth rate will slow after 2030, when the last of the boomers reach retirement age.

Advances in medical science means Americans are living longer, too; the Census Bureau says the number of Americans who live beyond 85 years will increase from 5.5 million in 2010 to 19 million by 2050. Other researchers suggest death rates will decline even faster as science improves, meaning that figure could be low.

The whole thing is here.


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