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The Region's Age Profile

June 22, 2017

By Timothy S. Sullivan, Ph.D.

Most Americans are familiar with the nation’s decennial census. Mandated in Article I of the US Constitution, this once-every-ten-years effort is used to allocate congressional representatives and electoral votes. The last decennial census was in 2010, and the next one will take place in the spring of 2020.

What might be less familiar to many Americans are the annual estimates that are also published by the Census Bureau. These estimates are created using birth and death data from the National Center for Health Statistics, as well as various migration estimates. A summary of the 2016 methodology is available at the Census Bureau’s web page. Since the estimates are published for each state and county and include breakdowns by age, sex, and race, they are an important source of information for state-and-local policy makers as well as businesses. They’re also studied for developing trends by economists, demographers, and sociologists.

Today's press release from the US Census Bureau focuses on the topic of age. As stated in this press release, "(t)he nation's population has a distinctly older age profile than it did 16 years ago." Most of this is attributed to members of the baby-boom generation moving into their 60s. The number of US residents age 65 and older has grown from 35 million (about 12% of the population) in 2000 to about 49 million (about 15% of the population) in 2016. This aging has important implications for labor and financial markets, as well as markets for many specific goods and services.

The state- and county-level data also allow us to compare our region with the nation. As seen in Table 1, while the state of Illinois is slightly younger than the nation as a whole, most of the counties in the Metro East have older populations. (When looking at data for the state of Illinois, it's always useful to remember that the values are dominated by Cook County, which has about 41% of the state's population.) All five counties in the Illinois portion of the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area have median ages higher than the US median. Within the region, St. Clair County has the lowest percentage of residents age 65 and older. For the other four counties, seniors make up a higher percentage of the population than for the US or the state.

Table 1: Age Profiles (as of July 1, 2016)

Median Age Percent 65 and Older
US 37.9 15.2%
Illinois 37.8 14.6%
Clinton County, IL 40.6 16.6%
Jersey County, IL 43.1 18.5%
Madison County, IL 39.9 16.3%
Monroe County, IL 42.6 17.0%
St. Clair County, IL 38.4 14.6%

Source: American Factfinder

The Metro East's age profile has the potential to be both an opportunity and a challenge. Since older workers are less likely to be working, it has the potential to reduce the region's labor force participation rate. This might force businesses to be more creative when hiring workers. On the other hand, since older Americans tend to spend more money on certain types of services, especially health care, this provides an opportunity for some sectors of the local economy to expand. In either case, as the Census Bureau points out, the aging of the nation's population will continue for many years to come.


Timothy S. Sullivan, Ph.D. is an Instructor in the Department of Economics & Finance and the Director of the Office of Regional Economic Analysis in the School of Business at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He can be reached at tsulliv@siue.edu.

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