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Wyoming's population is graying fast, new data shows

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Seniors

Seniors from Kemmerer, Evanston and Bridger Valley participate in a monthly Tri-City Pool tournament in January at the senior center in Kemmerer. Wyoming's senior population grew at the second-fastest rate in the nation from 2010 to 2020.

Wyoming is getting older — and it’s happening fast.

The state’s elderly population — 65 and over — grew 3.6% between July 2020 and July 2021, while the state’s total population only grew 0.3% during the same period, according to a new report on U.S. Census data from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.

The division attributes the trend to the aging of the large number of Baby Boomers in the state, the declining fertility rate and the number of young people leaving the state.

Wyoming is home to one of the nation’s largest proportions of Baby Boomers — the group born between 1946 and 1964, who are now 57 to 76 years old — making them mostly responsible for the rapid overall aging of the state’s population.

“Ever since the first Baby Boomers turned 65 years old in 2011, there has been a rapid increase in the size of the older population,” said Dr. Wenlin Liu, chief economist with the state’s Economic Analysis Division.

The elderly population in Wyoming is projected to reach roughly 135,000 — well over one-fifth of the state’s total residents — by 2030, when all Baby Boomers will be 65 and above.

Albany County, home to the state’s lone four-year public university, is the youngest county, while Hot Springs County is the oldest.

The counties with a higher proportion of older people are the small rural areas in Wyoming without much mineral extraction, Liu said in an email.

“These counties do not provide many diverse employment opportunities, so young people are not staying, but migrating out,” he added.

Outmigration of young people from rural areas has been happening nationwide for decades. But the pandemic flipped that trend on its head, and many people chose to relocate to less populated, lower cost areas.

“It’s going to be interesting to see whether this current trend will continue if the labor market slows down,” Liu said.

While Wyoming is rife with Boomers, the state is home to one of the smallest populations of Generation X — the group that follows Baby Boomers. That has started to contribute to the state’s array of workforce issues.

“Wyoming does not have sufficient resident workers to replace retiring Boomers in normal economic conditions,” Liu said in a press release. “Wyoming’s demographic transition and labor market environment provides excellent opportunity and encouragement for unemployed residents who are looking for jobs within the state as many Baby Boomers are exiting the labor force.”

Even with the rapid aging of the population, Wyoming’s median age still ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide last year at 38.9. That’s due, in part, to the fact that the U.S. is aging quickly: The median age increased from 38.5 to 38.8 from 2020 to 2021.

“The figure indicates that the aging of both the U.S. and Wyoming’s population has been speedy,” a press release from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division states.

The share of Wyoming’s elderly population was 17.9% in 2021, compared to 16.8% in the country as of 2021.

The new report also included data on the changes to the state’s race and demographic composition over the last year.

The growth of minorities — defined in the data as being any race other than non-Hispanic white — in Wyoming was 1,179 people, or 1.2% compared to the 0.3% total population increase.

But studying population and demographic changes can be skewed on a county-by-county basis in Wyoming because of how sparsely populated some of the counties are.

Take Hot Springs County for example — the Black population grew by 31% from July 2020 to July 2021, the report said. But because Hot Springs is the second-least populated county in the state and had only about 29 Black residents in 2020, an increase to an estimated 38 people in 2021 represents almost a one-third jump, Liu explained.

Only 16.7% of the state’s total population is reported to be a minority, making it the eighth lowest in the country. Nationally, 40.7% of U.S. residents are minorities. Wyoming was on par with the Dakotas and ranked more diverse than Montana and other sparsely populated states like Maine and Vermont.

Follow state politics reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis

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