Forever young in Alaska

Census: Last Frontier, including Juneau, defies aging trend

The lack of sun may keep Alaskans looking forever young, but the U.S. Census indicates that the state’s population really is younger than most.


“Alaska had the lowest percentage of its population 65 and older (9.0 percent), followed by Utah (9.8 percent)” according to a press release. “Florida had the highest percentage... (18.7), followed by Maine (17.7).”

In fact, the median age actually declined between 2012 and 2013, while the nationwide trend was aging.

“The U.S. median age ticked up from 37.5 years on July 1, 2012, to 37.6 years on July 1, 2013,” the report stated.

Thirteen boroughs in Alaska “became younger”: City and Borough of Juneau, Anchorage Municipality, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Nome Census Area, North Slope Borough, Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Sitka City and Borough, Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Valdez-Cordova Census Area and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.

Seven states “became younger”: North Dakota’s median age declined by 0.6 years, taking the lead in declining ages, followed by Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Oklahoma in the Great Plains states. Alaska and Hawaii made the list of seven as well.

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” Census Bureau director John Thompson said. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”

Though Juneau “became younger” between 2012 and 2013, data from the Juneau Economic Baseline Report’s June 2014 working draft indicates the city is still getting older, with its median age going from 31.9 in 1990 to 37.9 in 2013.

In the same report, conducted by McDowell Group and Sheinberg Associates, it is projected that within 10 years a fifth of Juneau’s population will be over 65.

“In 2013, 10 percent of the Juneau population was age 65 and over. By 2025, the percent is projected to double to 20 percent and remain at or near that rate through 2042. This local trend is consistent with national trends,” the Juneau Economic Baseline Report reads.

If it seems impossible that Juneau is following trends and getting older but somehow also “became younger” between 2012 and 2013, it’s not, according to McDowell Group Principal Jim Calvin.

“It is quite possible for median age to decline in the short term — for a community to ‘get younger’ — while the percentage of the population over 65 years increases. It’s a function of birth rates, the age of in-migrants versus out-migrants, along with the age characteristics of the baseline population,” Calvin wrote in an email.

He also explained how data might appear different between the U.S. Census reports and the reports created by McDowell Group and Sheinberg Associates.

“As I understand it, the Census Bureau goes through a process where they reconcile local data, provided by the state demographer, with statewide data, then with national data, and make necessary adjustments so it all adds up to the estimates they make for the entire country,” Calvin said. “The process does not necessarily lead to more accurate local-level information than what the State produces.”

Despite Juneau “getting younger” between 2012 and 2013, it’s by no means one of the youngest boroughs in Alaska. The Wade-Hampton Census Area had the lowest median age — only 22.6. Northwest Arctic Borough has a median age of 26.1 and Bethel Census Area has a median age of 26.7.

At the other end, the boroughs with the highest median age are all nearby neighbors. Wrangell has a median age of 47.1 years, Haines is at 47 and the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area is at 46.7.

Alaska stood out in other areas as well — not just in its youthful population. Alaska, at 52.4 percent, is also at the top of a list of only 10 states where males make up the majority of the population as of July 1, 2013. In Juneau, the percentage is closer to even at 50.9. Alaska also has the highest percentage of American Indian or Alaska Native residents, though California has the largest population. The statewide percentage is 14.8 and Juneau’s percentage is 11.6.

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