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July 6, 2013

Otsego population skewing older

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The percentage of people in Otsego County above the age of 65 has been rising for the past four decades and is expected to continue to increase through 2030, according to projections by a Cornell University demographics expert.

The percentage of people in the county who are children between ages five and 14 has also dropped markedly over the past 40 years — although the Cornell researcher is forecasting that group will level out at about the current percentage of 10.3 percent.

The projections, based on U.S. Census data going back to 1940, were issued by researcher Jan Vink, who said he arrived at his forecast by crunching the federal statistics and analyzing discernible trends.

His statistics-packed report for Otsego County predicts that by the year 2030 the number of people older than 65 will swell to 22 percent of the entire population.

That’s a hefty jump from 1970, when residents in that age group represented just 12.7 percent of the county’s entire population.

By 2010, the older segment of residents had climbed to 16.5 percent of the total county population. Vink said every indicator — particularly the fact that the Baby Boom Generation has begun to hit retirement age - points to the trend continuing for the next 17 years.

One likely consequence of the trend, he said, is that more people will be needed to care for those senior citizens who have medical needs or disabilities.

“This is certainly a trend we are seeing throughout upstate New York,” Vink said Friday when reached by telephone at the Ithaca campus.

Robert Harlem, founder of the pro-growth group Citizen Voices, said the Cornell report underscores the need for reinvigorated efforts to attract more jobs to the region.

He also said the fact that many younger adults are moving outside the region to advance their careers should be cause for grave concern.

“Right now, we don’t have the jobs to keep the people here,” said Harlem, who is also the president of Oneonta Block Co.

Overall, Harlem said, the county has become far too dependent on government and not-for-profit sector jobs.

“What’s going on is the result of being out of balance,” he said.

Citing a story published in Friday’s edition of The Daily Star in which Acting Otsego County Treasurer Russ Bachman suggested a tax increase could be required in order to balance the county budget in 2014, Harlem said, “We’ve got to build our tax base. And we are not going to be able to do that overnight.”

Despite the challenges facing Otsego County, Harlem said that he remains bullish on the county’s long-term prospects. “We have got all the pieces here to make it better,” the veteran businessman said. “We have a great pool of labor and talent, especially with those colleges on the hill. But we have to stop exporting our future, which is our youth.”

Vink’s report also found that the poverty rate in Otsego County increased from 11.9 percent in 2002 to 16.4 percent in 2011. Countywide, the report said, 19.8 percent of children less than 18 years of age were living in poverty in 2011.

In all age groups combined, there were 9,359 people in the county in 2011 who met the federal definition for living in poverty. In 2002, 6,917 residents were living in poverty, the report said.

Vink’s analysis determined that the median age in Otsego County is 40.9 years.

Statewide, the median age is 38 years old. The median age in most Otsego County towns is above 45 years old. The towns with the highest median age are Decatur (51.2 years old) and the town of Otsego (49.5 years old).

Buut the countywide median is lowered because the city median age, due to the large number of college students residing there, is just 22 years old.

The report on Otsego County also determined that:

• There was a total of 23,144 jobs in the county as of 2011, with the biggest industry sector being health care and social assistance, which accounted for 24 percent of the total positions.

• The second largest sector for employment was education, which accounted for 3,740 jobs, or 16.2 percent of the total.

• There are more people employed in public administration (1,570) than in manufacturing (959).

• Data from 2011 shows the municipality with the highest household median income is Middlefield - at $62,212. The lowest: Richfield, at $33,170.

• The average age of the 980 farmers in the county is 58.3 years old. There are more farmers older than age 65 (296) than those who are less than 45 years old (120).

• The town that had the highest percentage of population loss from 2000 to 2010 was Decatur, whose population shrunk by 57 people , or 13.9 percent. The town with the biggest population gain, on a percentage basis, was Westford, which gained 84 residents, for a 10.7 percent growth spurt.

The profiles for Otsego and other counties were generated by the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics. The work is sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, in coordination with the Community & Regional Development Institute at Cornell.