Study: Senior Population Rapidly Rising in Flathead County

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County’s future will be grayer, as the local segment of aging boomers and retirees grows more rapidly than younger workers and newborns, a new population study predicts.

Five years from now, senior citizens will make up nearly one-fifth of the county population, according to projections in a new report commissioned by the Census and Economic Information Center of the Montana Department of Commerce.

The study predicts that Flathead County will gain almost 6,100 seniors between 2010 and 2018, hiking the number of residents ages 65 and older from 13,103 to 19,184.

At the same time, the number of children under 5 years old is expected to slightly drop from 2010 to 2014 before seeing modest gains of only 551 by 2018, the study predicts.

The demographic of working adults — ages 25 to 64 years old — will slightly grow each year, with the county gaining roughly 3,600 between 2010 and 2018.

The overall county population is expected to grow 10.3 percent during that period and surpass 100,000 residents in 2018.

“Flathead County is one of the counties in the state that has been keyed in as a retirement destination,” said Joe Ramler, senior economist with the CEIC.

Last fall, Where to Retire magazine dubbed the valley one of the most appealing places for prospective retirees. The migration slowed during the recent recession, but “the reasons why they were moving here haven’t changed,” Ramler said.

“Now that we’re seeing an improvement in the economy, I would bet that we would start to see similar trends that we saw before.”

The state Commerce Department gathered census data from 1990-2010 and provided the information to Regional Economic Models, Inc., an analysis firm based in Amherst, Mass. REMI used the historical data and other economic data to generate the latest demographic and population forecasts for Montana in a report published last month.

REMI’s statewide forecast extends to 2060, but Ramler recommended relying on estimates within 20-25 years.

“The further into the future you get, the less and less confident you can be,” he said. “You want to try and get a handle on what could potentially happen by looking at historic and future trends.”

Overall, REMI predicts the state’s population will gain 84,129 people by 2018, with the largest increase in eastern Montana due to oil development near the Bakken.

In terms of the state’s aging demographic, REMI’s study painted a similar picture as the State Plan on Aging, released by the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

“The aging tsunami has begun,” the DPHHS report states.

In 2000, Montana ranked 14th in the nation for its high percentage of elderly residents. By 2025, Montana is projected to rank as high as third, according to the DPHHS report.

The state will gain almost 52,000 seniors between 2010 and 2018, REMI predicts. Elderly residents could make up 18 to 20 percent of the population, according to both REMI and the DPHHS.

“Montana as a whole is definitely getting older. We’ve known this for years, but we’ve not gotten quantifiable evidence (until now),” Ramler said.

Analysts across the nation have warned that local governments should prepare for the coming tide of senior citizens, as the Baby Boomer generation hits retirement age. With a sudden influx of elderly residents comes a growing demand for medical and city services, such as public transportation and walkable streets for a segment of the populace that doesn’t drive.

Recently in Kalispell, a new three-story independent senior living complex sprouted up near downtown. The apartment complex on Center Street, called Depot Place, opened with 40 units available, and an identical complex is planned for next door in the near future, according to developers. The Prestige Assisted Living facility on Glenwood Drive is planning a nearly 20,000-square-foot expansion of its current site, which has 44 units.

“As people age, they demand new things, new services,” Ramler said.

To read REMI’s study, visit ceic.mt.gov/Population/PopProjectionsTitlePage.aspx

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