WICHITA, Kansas — The number of Kansas residents older than 65 is expected to double in the next 50 years, outnumbering children for the first time in state history as the population ages and more working-age families leave the state in search of better opportunities, a forecast released Wednesday said.
The study by Wichita State University's Center for Economic Development and Business Research also projects a 21.8 percent increase in the state's overall population between 2014 and 2064 as the number of Kansas residents reaches more than 3.5 million people. That is slower than the growth rate for the nation.
But the biggest social and economic impact may come from projections that the state's working-age population, ages 18 to 64, is expected to increase only 10.3 percent during that period.
Jeremy Hill, the center's director, said that is worrisome because it is that body of labor that produces goods, pays income and sales taxes and generally drives the state's economy.
"I did not anticipate that group to not be a self-sustaining as it had been in the past," Hill said. "The aging workers are not surprising, but the conversion of youth and older population I thought was pretty surprising."
The number of Kansas residents under age 18 is projected to increase in the next 50 years by only 1.5 percent — far slower than both the working age and retired population.
"Historically, I have heard people talk about how in the Midwest generally they grow their own people. They educate their own workforce. They take pride in their own community," Hill said. "Well, when you have these factors of migration that are influencing the working population it is a little different scenario than it was a couple of decades ago."
Not only is Kansas not attracting a lot of a lot of workers, but the state is seeing a departure of its working population for new opportunities and better wages, he said. And since these working-age parents are taking their children with them, the state is losing its potential future growth.
Already the state's 0.4 percent growth rate is slower than the 0.6 growth rate nationwide, Hill said, and the study anticipates the state's growth rate will decline more in the future because Kansas does not have significant growth in its younger population.
"This should concern everybody," said Xan Wedel, senior research data engineer at the University of Kansas' Institute for Policy and Social Research.
The shifting population will especially hurt some rural counties that already have large numbers of aging residents, many of whom may have to move to metropolitan areas to find needed medical services, she said.
"When you no longer have the working-age population to maintain your nursing homes, your hospitals, any kind of medical facilities you may need as you grow older, what are you going to do?," she said. "I don't have an answer to that, but I suspect that some of these older people won't be able to age in place."
The forecast predicted a continuation of the flight from rural to metropolitan areas within the state.
Only 20 of the state's 105 counties are expected to grow in population, with the Kansas City metropolitan area showing the greatest increases. The remaining 85 counties will see declines. By 2064, more than 80 percent of Kansas residents are projected to be living in metropolitan areas.
A greater focus on urban populations will affect rural concerns over revenue, education funding and even political representation in Washington, D.C., if the slower population growth causes Kansas to lose any representation in Congress, Wedel said.
Kansas Population Forecast: http://www.population.cedbr.org