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Colorado to lose demographic dividend, says state demographer

Elizabeth Garner, state demographer for Colorado, told members of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce that the state is losing its "demographic dividend." While the state ranked low in percentage of seniors in the 2000 census, it ranked high in the percentage of baby boomers. The boomers will all be over age 65 by 2030. The group represents 42 percent of the state's workforce.

When it comes to a strong business climate, communities envy the 35-65 year age group as those communities seek to increase output of goods and services. Colorado has an advantage over many states in that it’s attracted young people in the 20-40 year old range over the past few decades, feeding into the group that generally produces more and earns more as its members age. About one in three Coloradans was born outsides the state and demographers expect in-migration will continue to account for population shifts that are not produced simply by births and deaths.

“Colorado’s migration is business-driven,” said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado state demographer, who presented demographic information from the 2010 census count during a Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce membership breakfast at Banana’s Fun Park June 14. Most of the young adults have moved to the state to pursue jobs and other business opportunities, just as young adults left the state in the 1980s during an economy that was shedding jobs in Western Colorado.

The attraction of those under-41 adults is what Garner calls the state’s demographic dividend. But she sees the advantage waning in the coming decades.

“We’re going to lose our demographic dividend,” said Garner.

In 2030, all members of the baby boomer generation will be 65 or older. The massive graduation into that age group will have a big impact on Western Colorado in general and on Mesa County in particular, said Garner.

“Colorado has never had many older people,” said Garner, but that’s about to change in total numbers and as a percentage of the total population. In the 2000 census, the percentage of Colorado’s population that was 65 years or older ranked 47th among the 50 states. But Colorado was number 6 in the percentage of the population falling within the baby boomer group (people born between 1946 and 1964). So it’s plausible that Colorado could feature a higher-than-average percentage of seniors in 2030. The increase in median age has been more pronounced in Mesa County than in many parts of the state.

The median age was 37 years and climbing as of census estimates in 2008, even though 25 percent of the population was under-20.

If the trend plays out as Garner forecasts, housing for seniors will be roughly equal to housing for young families or middle aged adults. Demands on health care will be greater, as will potential jobs in that field. And even if the baby boomers work later in life than did their parents, they will eventually leave jobs and create openings for their children and grandchildren. The boomers account for 42 percent of the labor force in Colorado, and about 1 million of them will retire by 2030. That represents more than one-third of the jobs in the state.

Demographic information is used to help schools, government, companies, job seekers and retirees all prepare for future trends and demands.

Mike Moran has worked as a news and sports reporter, and news manager for the past 30 years, in markets that include Rochester, New York; Colorado Springs; Panama City, Florida and Monroe, Louisiana. He also teaches Speechmaking at Mesa State College and assists his wife, Toni Heiden, in managing her real estate company in downtown Grand Junction. Mike is active in Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction, the Mesa State MBA Alumni Committee, Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and the Botanical Gardens of Western Colorado.
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