Editorial: Preparing for an aging population

No one should be shocked to learn that the population of Franklin County is aging.

The surprising part to some, however, may be the kind of impact this will likely have on area communities.

In 2013, the percentage of the county’s population 70 or older sits at 10.4 percent. In a little more than 16 years, that elderly population is expected to more than double. That would mean that one person in five would have reached their Biblical “threescore years and ten.”

This is the county’s future because of trends with the different segments of the population. The older population, say 55 and older, is staying relatively stable in numbers and remaining in the county. Meanwhile, there isn’t expected to be any growth when it comes to the younger side of the population.

In fact, it is looking like a particular segment of the county’s residents, those 19 years old and younger, will be shrinking from 22 percent of the population in 2010 to 17 percent in 2030. The reason for drop is probably due to a number of factors — including families not having as many children — but also there isn’t a sizeable influx of young families to the county.

While there are different factors that play into creating this scenario, one big one has to be a shrinking number of jobs.

Jobs and the economy also factor into any response to the aging population.

We’re glad to see the Franklin Regional Council of Governments taking the lead in trying to prepare for a changing demographic landscape here in the county. Thursday night’s workshop, with its focus on how communities need to plan for the change was, we would think, the beginning of a conversation that has to take place. As Phoebe Walker, the FRCOG’s director of community services, was quoted in advance of the meeting, “It ripples through everything, including emergency shelter planning and, of course, housing and transportation.”

Any planning has to include a discussion of how communities are going to pay for changes in the kind of services that an aging population will need.

We would urge the FRCOG and others to increase efforts to bring jobs to the county. That will serve to strengthen and increase the tax base as well as giving young people more of an incentive to move here. Increased employment opportunities that draw young people may not reverse the aging trend but it could help create a better balance.

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