Riding the age wave
Ryan Summerlin April 29, 2012
This is the first part of a three-part series on aging in the high country and the opportunities and challenges that come with it.
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Baby boomers have moved through America’s economy and culture like a pig through a python – and now they’re retiring.
“Baby boomers have changed everything. They changed elementary school, junior high and high school, and they’ll change retirement,” said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s state demographer. “It will impact us across our society – the labor force, health care, almost everything we touch.”
Colorado is aging, especially in mountain-resort communities. The state will see a more normal age distribution than the mountain communities are accustomed to.
“We’re becoming more normal. Our economy is becoming more like the rest of the U.S.,” Garner said.
“It’s not good; it’s not bad. It’s just different,” Garner said. “If we don’t plan for it, it could be bad.”
For the near future, the number of people between ages 60 and 70 will increase, at least partially from second-home owners retiring and making this their primary residence, Garner said.
Will they stay?
“Who knows what’s really going to happen,” Garner said.
We do know a few things, Garner said.
As we age, we pour less money into local and regional tax coffers. We’ll work less, earn less, spend less and pay less in taxes.
Retirees don’t spend as much because they don’t earn as much or need as much stuff. Those decreased expenditures mean decreased sales tax revenues for local regional and state governments, Garner said.
“It’s a numbers issue because we’ve never had a lot of people here in that age category,” Garner said.
Boomers will age out of the labor force, and that will create downward pressure on output and economic growth, said Rachel Lunney, research project manager with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.
“Right now, resort communities have a greater-than-average number of working-age people. That will decline quickly, and it will reverse,” Lunney said.
Tracking the economy is a little like driving backward. You can clearly see where you’ve been. Where you’re headed is tougher to tell, Garner said.
In the coming years, the 65-plus age group will grow fastest in Colorado and the nation. Members of this group will buy fewer big-ticket items such as second homes, Garner said.
Eagle County was one of Colorado’s five fastest-growing counties between 2000 and 2010, growing by 25 percent to 52,197.
Eagle County saw a large in-migration of people during the 1990s, Garner said. Those people tended to be younger, between 20 and 40 years old, and they started families, Garner said.
Those families are now growing and aging.