Bennington County's senior population on the increase

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BENNINGTON — Bennington County's senior population has grown by around 150 people in the past year, reflecting bigger-picture trends in the state and in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

The latest bureau estimates show that the county's senior population rose from 8,131 in 2018 to 8,288 last year, a nearly 2 percent increase.

This means people age 65 and older now make up about 23.4 percent of Bennington County's estimated 35,470 residents. Last year, seniors comprised 22.9 percent of the county; at the beginning of the decade, just under 19 percent.

Nationwide, Vermont has the fourth largest share of seniors (20 percent), behind Maine (21.2), Florida (20.9) and West Virginia (20.5), the Census Bureau said in a release on Thursday.

The state with the smallest percentage of seniors is Utah, at 11.4 percent.

"We've always been a relatively older state than most," said Michael Moser, research specialist at the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies.

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He attributes this to factors such as Vermont's low birth rate, as well as the small number of domestic and international migrants relocating to the state.

While Vermont's median age is 43 years, Bennington County's is 47.1 — nearly 10 years more than the national median of 38.4. The county also has the fourth highest median age in the state. Essex County is at the top with 51.8.

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The U.S. as a whole is becoming grayer: its elderly population increased by nearly 1.7 million, or 3.2 percent, between 2018 and 2019. The Census Bureau said that the growth is partly driven by the aging of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.

A notable part of the latest national population data is that the proportion of seniors is growing faster than that of working age people, those 15 to 64 years old.

The nonworking age population — which includes children from birth to 14 - grew by 13.1 million, or 12.9 percent, in the past decade. In contrast, the working age population increased by only 6.4 million, or 3.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

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A closer look at Vermont and Bennington County shows the same trend, with the county seeing a 9 percent drop in the number of working age people between 2010 and 2019.

With more people who aren't paying income taxes utilizing public services, Moser said government leaders would eventually have to rethink spending priorities.

"Ultimately, it's about spending policies," he said. "Where do we put our tax dollars?"

Policymakers might also come up with ways to encourage more people to bear children, Moser said. Right now, he said, there are "strong disincentives" to having a child in Vermont, including the cost of child care.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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