Union County population trending older

By Observer Upload March 15, 2013 10:41 am

by Pat Caldwell/For The Observer

In the past seven decades the population in Union County showed a steady, though modest, growth, but now the area appears to be well into a trend where the dominant age group is older and grayer.

The long-term development appears to be tied to two similar — yet distinctive — factors: the aging Baby Boom generation and economics.

Statistics released by the Oregon Employment Department in 2010 illustrated the local area sustained moderate growth from 1940 onward.

“The county has a slow growth pattern. But the age structure has changed. All of the growth has been in the upper age categories,” Jason Yohannan, regional economist with Oregon Employment Department said.

In 1940, the population of Union County stood at 17,399. In 2010, the population of the county was 25,748. 

Yet while the county continued to grow in population between 2000 and 2010, numbers showed an interesting disparity. 

Between 2000 and 2010, Union County exhibited 249 fewer children — those aged 18 and younger — but added 693 seniors, or those 65 and older. Between 2000 and 2010 Union County showed a net loss in total population of those less than 60 years of age.

The bottom line is the county, like much of the United States, is aging. For example, the median age of adults in Union County in 1980 was just under 30. In 2010, the median age in the county was 40.

The local trend of a generally older population is not a unique condition. As the “Baby Boom” generation ages across the country, many areas display a larger number of older folks in the total population statistics.

“The whole country had the baby boom take place,” Yohannan said.

Yet a casual glance at the numbers misses another important, though divergent, factor. In 2009, Union County’s biggest age group was those between the ages of 20 to 24. The second largest age category was those aged 15 to 19, a clear indication of the fact La Grande is home of Eastern Oregon University.

“The college — most communities this size don’t have one and that differentiates Union County from of the eastern counties,” Johannan said.

Even with the yearly influx of younger people to attend EOU, statistics still indicate seniors occupy a larger share of the total population mix locally.

The population age disparity is not lost on at least one local elected official. La Grande City Councilman John Bozarth said the population numbers indicate one obvious conclusion.

“We have got to generate some more jobs to keep the younger people here,” he said.

Still Bozarth said the city is focused on developing and executing a number of long-term, broad-based economic development plans.

“I think we are headed that way,” he said.

In Wallowa County, 10 percent of the population stood between the age of 55 and 59, according to 2009 statistics from the Oregon Employment Department.