WASHINGTON – Maryland’s median age grew by more than eight months from 2000 to 2003, according to new Census Bureau statistics, mirroring a national trend that is largely due to the graying of the baby boomer generation.
But while the state’s median age hit 36.7 years in 2003, some parts of the state are different shades of gray, according to a Capital News Service analysis of the numbers.
The youngest counties are clustered in Southern Maryland, where “fast-growing, new suburban jurisdictions” are drawing families and younger workers, Mark Goldstein, economist for the Maryland Department of Planning.
The oldest counties in the state are just across the Chesapeake Bay, where counties like Talbot tend to attract “not . . . young families, but older people,” Goldstein said.
Talbot County had the highest median age in Maryland, at 43.8 years in 2003.
The different ages bring different challenges. While Southern Maryland grapples with the effects of a growing economy and the need for more schools, there is mounting concern about a senior-heavy population on the Shore, state and local planners said.
“Growth counties like Charles County have to build new schools, in addition to renovating older ones and adding onto older ones,” said Chuck Wineland, assistant superintendent of supporting services for the county’s schools. The county plans to build nine new schools in the next nine years.
“We are looking at tremendous, tremendous increases,” he said.
Prince George’s County remained the youngest county in the state, rising from a median age of 33.3 years in 2000 to 34.3 years in 2003. St. Mary’s and Charles counties followed closely at 34.8 and 34.9 years, respectively.
St. Mary’s County officials attribute the county’s relative youth to its vibrant, growing economy, pointing to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station near Lexington Park and the contracting jobs it brings to the region. Those jobs, in turn, continue to bring in younger professionals and their children, said Karen Everett, manager of the county’s business development office.
“We’re not moving in retirees. We’re moving in scientists and engineers who end up doing important work here,” Everett said.
Those are the same age groups that are leaving the Eastern Shore, said planners in those counties, creating a shortage of younger workers who may be needed in the near future to provide services to a growing retiree population.
Kent County community planner Carla Martin said that “the county is concerned” with the aging of the population, which has been aggravated by the lack of jobs for younger people in the county.
“Obviously, Kent County is an agricultural county, and there just aren’t a lot of young people going into farming,” Martin said. “We don’t have a lot of large industries that are constantly recruiting for new jobs.”
Shore counties also suffer from a shortage of affordable housing, particularly in waterfront areas, said P.A.M. Schaller, director of Kent County’s economic development office. Those elements combine to drive young professionals away, she said.
“We’re going to need jobs and wages for young people to . . . keep them here and attract them here. We are going to have to have affordable housing to keep them here and attract them here,” Schaller said. “We all think that housing prices have increased, but waterfront property has gone one notch above.”
While median ages varied across the state, virtually all Maryland jurisdictions saw their populations age between 2000 and 2003.
The only exceptions were Somerset County, whose median age fell from 36.5 to 35.5 years, and Worcester County, where the median age inched down from 43 years to 42.9 years. Somerset officials were not able to explain the full year’s drop in the county’s median age.
Nationally, the median age grew from 35.3 in 2000 to 35.9 in 2003, according to the Census Bureau.
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