While suffering through another snowy winter in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, last month, Dolores Pohl said she’d sometimes wonder how nice the Florida sunshine would feel on her face. Then the 59-year-old would consider more basic needs and go back to shoveling.
Pohl and her husband are among a growing number of Pennsylvanians who have forsaken thoughts of a Sunbelt retirement because the benefits in their home state are so generous, population-trend experts say. Pennsylvania, which has the third-largest percentage of residents older than 65 in the U.S., saw its under-18 population decline in the last decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released yesterday.
“I don’t think I could ever leave Pennsylvania,” said Pohl, whose husband, Jim, 66, retired as a retail clerk from the state Liquor Control Board. “We feel lucky to live in a state that provides good services for its older folks.”
Pennsylvania’s overall population grew 3.4 percent in the last 10 years to 12,702,379, according to the 2010 Census. That growth, the same as the previous decade, helped it remain the nation’s sixth-largest state. Philadelphia showed its first population gain since 1950 with an increase in black, Asian and Hispanic residents making up for a loss in white population.
Still, the number of residents 17 years old or younger declined 4.5 percent, census figures show.
“More people have moved beyond their child-bearing years,” in Pennsylvania than in some other states, said William Frey, a demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Since more of the baby-boomer generation is staying, “Pennsylvania’s population will continue to” be dominated by older residents, Frey said.
That may mean budget battles ahead, as in many states struggling with shrinking revenue. Medicaid costs escalated to $5.5 billion in the current budget from about $3.1 billion in the 2000 fiscal year. Elderly Pennsylvanians account for 15 percent of those enrolled in the program, according to the Department of Public Welfare.
Frey also found that Hispanics account for 77 percent of the state’s growth, and the gains are tilted toward the eastern part, including suburban Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, Lancaster, Reading and Harrisburg. Most of the decline in the under-18 population occurred in western Pennsylvania.
White Population Falls
Since 2000, the non-Hispanic white population fell 2.2 percent to 10,094,652, and whites now account for 79.5 percent of the population, 2010 Census data show. Blacks were up 10.4 percent to 1,327,091 and now make up 10.4 percent of the population. Asians rose 58.6 percent to 346,288 and make up 2.7 percent. Across the state, the Hispanic population rose 82.6 percent to 719,660, the data show.
The U.S. population grew to 308,745,538 residents since the last census count in 2000. That’s up 9.7 percent, compared with 13 percent the previous decade, figures show. The South and West gained at the Northeast’s expense in the 2010 census.
The slowing pace of population growth in northeastern states is a decades-long trend spurred, in part, by the region’s loss of manufacturing jobs, said Janice Madden, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor who follows population shifts. Payrolls at Pennsylvania manufacturers declined 35 percent over the past 10 years, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.
Losing Political Clout
Pennsylvania’s tepid population growth means the loss of another U.S. House of Representatives seat, the eighth-straight time the state’s congressional delegation has been reduced by a census count, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania, which once had 30 House seats, will be down to 18” when Republicans finish the state redistricting process, Madonna said in an interview. Republicans control both houses of the state General Assembly and the governor’s seat.
Mark Critz, a House Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, is likely to have his seat redistricted out of existence, Madonna said. Critz won a special election in May after Representative Jack Murtha died. Critz worked as a long-time aide to Murtha, an 18-term Democrat from western Pennsylvania who served as head of a House defense appropriations subcommittee.
Anemic growth combined with an aging population means Pennsylvania will “continue to lose seats and lose clout in Washington,” Madonna added.
Pennsylvania, which trails only Florida and West Virginia in its percentage of residents over 65, had the 12th-biggest decline compared with other states in the under-18 population category, according to census figures for 2000 to 2009.
Pennsylvania officials project that by 2020, the number of residents aged 60 or older will increase by 9 percent to 2.6 million people, according to a state Department of Aging website.
That department oversees services offered to the elderly, including helping some 65-and-older residents pay prescription- drug costs and assistance in finding long-term care services. Pensioners also receive tax breaks from the state.
Cities for Seniors
A 2005 survey by CNO Financial Group Inc.’s Bankers Life & Casualty Company unit, which specializes in insurance coverage for elderly customers, listed two Pennsylvania cities -- Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- among its top 10 best nationally for seniors. The survey cited Philadelphia’s “superb assisted- and independent-living facilities” for helping make the city attractive to older residents.
Those kinds of services helped persuade Pohl, a part-time bookkeeper, and her husband, who also worked at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and then a state liquor store, to stay in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, she said.
Patricia Wilczynski, 67, of Browndale, near Scranton, said she and her husband moved from central New Jersey in the past decade to avoid high taxes and finds “Pennsylvania is good to seniors.”
Senior benefits include a reduced $10 annual automobile registration fee and a $250 per-year tax rebate that ultimately comes from casino revenue in the state, she said.
And as retirees, without earned income, “We don’t pay Pennsylvania state income tax,” Wilczynski said.
The recent drop in housing prices spurred by problems with subprime mortgages also has discouraged some Pennsylvania seniors from heading south, Massie “Hoot” Gibson, a retired Boeing Co. (BA) aircraft worker from the Philadelphia suburb of Lansdowne, said in an interview.
“The cost of moving is too high and you can’t sell your house,” said Gibson, 73. “You fix up your home and you don’t want to leave it.”
The bulge in elderly residents has some Pennsylvania real- estate developers considering projects for more 55-and-older communities across the state, said Stuart Shapiro, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based lobbying group for long-term care providers such as nursing homes.
“I talked with a developer recently who wanted to push ahead with one of these projects now that problems with the credit markets have eased,” Shapiro said. “I think we’ll see significant growth in that area over the next decade.”
Nursing Home Boomlet
The state also could see a boomlet in nursing-home construction by 2020, said Paul Bach, an executive with Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis Healthcare Corp. The company provides long-term nursing care facilities in 13 states.
The state has about 725 nursing homes with almost 90,000 beds, according to the PHCA. The association’s research shows those facilities are filled to about 91 percent capacity.
The strong demand for nursing-home beds, coupled with Pennsylvania’s aging population means “extra capacity will be required within the next 10 years, if not sooner,” Bach said.
“We believe demand in Pennsylvania for our services will continue to strengthen” by the time 2020 census takers begin their work, he said.
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