Garfield County in for big changes |

Garfield County in for big changes

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County, one of the fastest-growing parts of the state over the past decade, will get older, less affluent and increasingly Hispanic as time progresses, according to Colorado State Demographer Elizabeth Garner.

She predicted a second recessionary dip in 2012, nationally and in this region, and said that as the current workforce retires, wages probably will decline somewhat around the state and in this area.

Garner was the lead speaker at the 2011 State of the Valley Symposium held Friday at the Hotel Colorado, a revival of the event last held in 2008, sponsored by the Healthy Mountain Communities organization.

Using data from the 2010 Census and other sources, Garner reported:

• Garfield and Eagle counties experienced two of the five highest growth rates in Colorado from 2000 to 2010, when the state as a whole grew by 17 percent.

Garfield County grew by 28 percent, to 56,389, and Eagle County by 25 percent, to 52,197.

By comparison, Mesa County grew by 26 percent and Pitkin County grew by 15 percent over the same period.

• Colorado posted a 41 percent growth among Hispanics for the decade, but local numbers were higher, Garner reported.

Garfield County’s Hispanic population grew by 118 percent over the course of the decade, to a total of 8,679, Garner said, compared to a growth rate of 60 percent among Hispanics in Eagle and Pitkin counties.

The growth in Hispanic residents was greater among those under 18 years of age, Garner said, reflecting a belief that strong growth will continue among Hispanics in Garfield County.

“What we’re seeing is actually growth in families,” she said, started by young immigrants.

• Population growth in the area was highest among people in the 55-64 age bracket. This reflects the national trend as baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, age and approach retirement age.

“You’ve got a lot of hard changes coming up, that people need to prepare for,” she said.

In the coming years, the 65-plus age group will be the fastest growing, which will impact the need for public transportation and health care, and affect the viability of the valley’s second-home market.

“In the next 20 years, 1 million Coloradans will age out of the labor force,” a process that will gain momentum over the next five years.

Boomer retirements will open up jobs for younger workers, she said, but they will also place new demands on public and private services.

As the population ages, people shift their spending habits from buying goods such as homes, cars and sporting equipment to buying services, which could mean a drop in sales tax revenues for governments in the region.

And even as jobs open up, Garner said, it is probable that earnings of the replacement generation will be significantly lower than the wages paid to their retiring predecessors.

Added to that, she said, is unprecedented unemployment among the region’s 20-somethings.

“This youth unemployment is really going be big,” she predicted, explaining that an alarming percentage of today’s young people have not had the experience of working multiple jobs, being fired, or finding a career track.

The effects of that lack of experience, she said, may be long-term negative impact on their earnings.

Garner’s presentation, a power-point slideshow, will be available on the state demographer’s website:

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