A further examination of Adirondack Park population trends brings us to age group analysis. The two previous population articles looked at long-term trends from 1970-2010 and short-term trends from 2000-2010. U.S. Census data have shown that the population in 61 Adirondack Park Towns 100% within the Blue Line grew at a higher rate than that of New York State, though it lagged behind most other similar rural areas.
While these comparisons to state and national trends are useful, they do not tell the full story about what’s happening inside Adirondack population trends. The full story is revealed by studying the experiences of different age groups.
In the new report The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 we aggregated the data of the 61 Adirondack Park Towns that are 100% within the Blue Line in order to compare Adirondack communities with other areas in the U.S. The purpose was to see if Adirondack communities stood out in any way from other places by studying trends of leading economic and population indicators from 1970 to 2010. In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had just over 100,000 residents, 77.4% of the Park’s estimated population of 130,000.
There are a number of questions that course through Adirondack political debates about population losses or gains. One of the best tools to investigate and answer these questions is through an analysis of different age groups that tracks their experiences decade after decade as they age. This kind of age group analysis of the Adirondack population has never been done before.
There are many questions about population trends in the Adirondack Park that age group analysis can address. Has the Adirondacks been losing its young people? Is the experience of young people in the Adirondacks different from that in other rural areas? How many young people chose to stay in the Adirondacks or moved here? Is the number of young people that the Adirondacks retains or recruits similar to or different from that in other rural areas?
These questions can be answered by tracking the experiences of different age groups in a region as they are born, finish school, go off to college or the military, start working, raise families, settle into middle age, and retire.
In age group analysis we separated the population of the Adirondacks, New York State, the U.S., and Rural America into six groups based on their birth years. The first age group is composed of people born between 1936 and 1945. The last cohort comprises people born between 1986 and 1995. We assigned each age group a commonly used nickname for ease of reference in the discussion that follows; see the table below.
We examined the population of each age group at the end of each decade, from 1970 to 2010. For example, when we first meet them in 1970, the pre-Baby Boom (born between 1936-1945) age group is 25 to 34 years old and focused on starting careers and families. By 1990, they are settling into middle age and by 2010 they have earned the title “seniors.” In each decade, some people in this age group die or move away and are “lost” to the group. Meanwhile, some new people of that age move into the region and as such are “recruited” to that area’s age group.
In this article, information is provided on two age groups – the pre-Baby Boomers and Classic Baby Boomers. The pre-Baby Boomers were born between 1936 – 1945. The table below shows changes to this group decade over decade. We only have 40 years on data for this group. In 1970, they were between 25-34 years old and in 2010 they were 65-74 years old.
For the pre-Baby Boomers, the 61 Park Towns saw their population grow by 11.6%. When looking at the table below (Table 20) a number of things jump out. First, the Park Towns grew by 11.6% at a time when New York State dropped by -39.6%. The age group in New York State had over 2.2 million people in 1970, but by 2010 had dropped to under 1.4 million. New York saw losses every decade as hundreds of thousands of pre-Baby Boomers decided to moved out of state. The U.S. in these years saw a net loss of -12.4%, driven by natural mortality and limited immigration from abroad, which is heavily influenced by young people.
Two other features jump out from the pre-Baby Boom age group table. The first is that the Adirondacks recruited over 1,100 people at age 35. This was consistent with other rural areas, though the Park Towns were on the high end. Another interesting trend is that the pre-Baby Boomer age group showed a strong interest in retiring to rural areas, starting around 2000 at age 55. The Park Towns saw the largest recruitment of retirees, yet almost all the rural areas saw growth from people of retirement age.
The next age group, born between 1946 and 1955, is the Classic Baby Boomers. They were teenagers and young adults 15 to 24 years old at the beginning of our study in 1970 and were nearing retirement in 2010 at ages 55 to 64. In the Park Towns and Split Towns, the Classic Baby Boomers posted a 40-year gain of 15.6% and 6.2%, respectively. See Table 21 below.
Most rural areas saw small changes in this age group. The Rural NY towns grew at 18.9%, the Low Density U.S. counties grew at 5.9%, but the USDA Non-Metro U.S. counties did not grow. While nationally, Rural areas were either flat or showed modest growth, rural areas in New York and the Northeast U.S. experienced growth in these years.
In New York State, the Classic Baby Boomer age group shrank in every decade from 1970 to 2010, going down as fast as the Park Towns went up. The New York State age group dropped by -21.9% as this age group shed over 600,000 people in 40 years. Across the U.S., this age group grew modestly at 2.9%, but dropped significantly after age 55 due to natural decline. The overall national growth for this age group was due to recruitment of immigrants from abroad.
It’s important to look at when Adirondack communities saw population gains. In 1970, the Classic Baby Boomers were 15-24 years old and by 1980 this group had lost over 400, most likely the end of the export of college-age young people. By 1990, at age 35, this group recruited over 1,100 people who either returned home from college or chose to move here. This age group picked up over 800 people at age 55, people in early retirement years.
These two age groups, born between 1936-1945 and 1946-1955, were parts of a historic population expansion in the U.S. that fueled modest population gains in some rural areas. These age groups were the last that showed population gains as all subsequent age cohorts – the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials – all posted losses, which were widely shared across Rural America.
Age group analysis shows us two things. The first is that the Adirondacks is seeing positive recruitment among young career-age people starting at age 35. Though this is a fact that is often denied by local elected official, this seems like something that could be a building block for the region. One effort for Adirondack leaders is to investigate some kind of coordinated regional recruitment program where incentives are provided for people to move to the Adirondack Park. One part of this could be the creation of some form of clearinghouse for careers in the Adirondacks that identifies career options in the Park for people who dream of moving here and lists employment openings. Many employers in the Park talk about the challenges of finding long-term employees.
The other is that the Adirondacks recruits retirees. This is a dynamic group in the Adirondacks that fuels many non-profits and are active in their communities. They are generally people who have the means to retire and have moved to the Adirondacks because they wanted to live in a rural areas with the scenic and recreational amenities that the Park offers. Adirondack leaders would be smart to investigate ways to expand the number of retirees who chose to move to the Adirondacks.
The debate over the future of the Adirondack Park is driven by anecdote and conventional wisdom rather that data. Long-term population analysis shows how the Park’s leaders could embrace the reality of the Park’s population trends and forge new programs that target recruitment of people at different ages.