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Garfield’s demographic future: younger and older

Commissioners recently took a look into Garfield County’s future, to a time when Millennials eclipse Baby Boomers, the number of elderly residents nonetheless swells and demographic diversity becomes more the rule than the exception.

The Colorado state demographer came to Glenwood Springs last week and focused on what the coming decades are expected hold for Garfield County in income, migration, aging, growth and diversity.

In turn, local governments will have to consider how to support not only a quickly aging population, but also the workforce that a large number elderly people will drive.



From 2014 to 2015, Colorado was the second fastest growing state in the country, with an increase of more than 100,000 people, said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. She predicts the state will be in the top three again this year.

That growth is largely concentrated on the Front Range and along the Interstate 70 corridor.



Growth has varied from county to county. Garfield and Mesa counties are surrounded by counties that haven’t done so well. So the counties and state need to think about how to manage those areas, she said.

The state demography office has Garfield County currently with 57,000 people. By 2030 it estimates that number will grow to 80,000, and in 2040 that will be 89,000. That’s about 2,000 people less than what the demographer’s office forecast last year.

Over the last five years the number of people moving out of Garfield County has exceeded the number moving in, a measure that closely tracks with economic booms and busts.

Last year was the first in three years for the number of people moving to Garfield County exceeded those moving away.

The population of Garfield County increased by about 600 people from 2014 to 2015, with faster growth in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle.

A sizable amount of that migration has been into the unincorporated part of the county. Of the 1,900-person increase in population from 2010 to 2015, nearly 800 moved into unincorporated Garfield County.

“When we migrate people to Colorado, we tend to migrate them young,” said Garner. She said the 25-to-37 age range is Colorado’s “bread and butter.”

This is often true for the Front Range, but is not so common for rural areas.

“Knowing that you guys can attract that young adult who is ready to work is positive,” said Garner.

Garfield County is also attracting an older population.

Statewide, the number of people 65 and older was 555,000. By 2030, Garner projects that will have grown to nearly 1,250,000.

“I could see you getting pulled at both ends, creating goods and services for that older population as well as the younger generation.”

Garfield County typically loses out on young people when they graduate from high school and start looking for college and employment opportunities, said Garner. But they come back as young adults ready to start a career and a family, she said.

In Garfield County, Baby Boomers are still the biggest population — but only for about one more year. Generation X is expected to become the most populous, but only for a short time. In about five years, demographers project that Millennials will become the biggest cohort. In the Denver metro area, Millennials are already bigger than any other age group, said Garner.

Likewise, the Hispanic population and other minority groups are growing and making up a larger percentage of Colorado.

Younger generations are more diverse than older generations. And by 2040 demographers project that minorities will make up about 45 percent of Colorado’s population. Hispanics are expected to make up 30 percent of the state’s population.

From 2014 to 2015 jobs saw solid growth in Garfield County, she said. The county added 900 jobs, even in the wake of the loss of about 400 oil and gas jobs.

In the last year, the county saw a lot of job growth in construction, health care, administration, retail, accommodations and food services.

Still, the county is significantly below its pre-recession peak by about 2,800 jobs. Garner estimated that figure would be back on track by about 2018.

In the next 15 years, the biggest growth in jobs is expected to come from retiree-generated jobs. As the senior population increases, that large baby boomer population, so too will the number of jobs needed to care for them.

Garner suggested considering what the county will need to accommodate those elder care and service jobs and the people filling them.

Hospitals have also been experiencing a lot of growth, and Garner expects that trend will continue as the older population increases.


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