We’re Getting Grayer

Several years ago, supporters of a campaign to provide new schools for St. Clairsville were worried too many voters in the city were older, without children of their own in school, living on fixed incomes -and not about to vote in favor of higher taxes.

The good news is that after several tries, the school levy campaign succeeded. The bad news is that St. Clairsville is even “older” now than it was then.

Older residents are something of a concern for a variety of reasons. If you’re in government, you worry that – again because many are living on fixed incomes -senior citizens tend to raise the roof about higher taxes and fees for government services.

Complaining about $5 or $10 more for water service is a whole lot more understandable when you consider that many people subsisting on Social Security are “taking home” less than if they were working at full-time, minimum-wage jobs.

There are other concerns about aging populations. As some local fire departments and emergency squads understand, more older folks means more ambulance and assistance calls.

Some communities and counties in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio are “aging” – while others are growing “younger.”

Ten years ago, 23.9 percent of St. Clairsville residents were 65 years of age or older. Now, the percentage is 25.8.

Both West Virginia and Ohio are, in general, aging more quickly than the U.S. population as a whole. Ten years ago, 15.3 percent of West Virginians and 13.3 percent of Ohioans were 65 or older. Now, the numbers are 16 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively. The U.S. average is 13 percent.

Both the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio have higher 65-and-over percentages than our states.

Here are the county percentages for the Northern Panhandle: Brooke, 19.1; Hancock, 18.8; Marshall, 17.6; Ohio, 18.5; Tyler, 18.5; Wetzel, 19.5. In every case except Ohio County, the percentages are higher than they were in 2000.

In East Ohio: Belmont, 17.6; Harrison, 18.2; Jefferson, 18.3; Monroe, 19.4. Belmont and Jefferson counties have lower percentages than in 2000. Monroe County is the aging winner, at a full 3 points higher than a decade ago.

For communities, the fastest-aging city in our region is New Martinsville, at 21.7 percent, compared to 18.2 in 2000.

On the other side of the spectrum, Steubenville is growing younger. Just 17.5 percent of its residents are 65 or over, compared to 22.2 percent in 2000.

What does the general trend of going gray mean?

Again, it means government services will have to be adjusted. It means our economies will change. Fewer working-age people means less money circulating – and less taxable income. The same situation faced by St. Clairsville regarding support for public education will become a factor in many school districts.

In some ways, of course, we’re not just becoming older – we really are growing better. In general, we’re more experienced, and in some ways, collectively smarter. We may need that to deal with the challenges of going gray.

Myer can be reached at: Myer@news-register.net.