Pennsylvania nursing home

In this Nov. 6, 2015 file photo, an elderly couple walks down a hall of a nursing home in Easton, Pa.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents grew older and more diverse over the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, mirroring a trend seen nationwide as the country’s largest generation turns 65. 

“The first Baby Boomers reached 65 years old in 2011,” said Dr. Luke Rogers, chief of the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Branch. “Since then, there’s been a rapid increase in the size of the 65-and-older population, which grew by over a third since 2010. No other age group saw such a fast increase.”

Census figures estimate that about 79 percent of the Keystone state’s population is at least 18-years-old – ranking 22nd nationwide. Despite falling in the middle of the pack, Pennsylvania’s population growth over the last two years has virtually stalled, outpacing only nine other states that have seen significant declines since 2018: New Jersey, Vermont, Mississippi, Connecticut, Louisiana, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, Alaska and Virginia.

Regionally, the Northeast’s negative growth lags far behind the West and South, where population growth has exceeded 8 percent in areas. 

State researches noticed a similar trend in a 2017 analysis that concluded Pennsylvania’s senior population – defined as those 65 and older – grew 20 times faster than all other age groups. Its 2.2 million senior residents ranked the fifth highest in the nation that year. By 2030, the Pennsylvania State Data Center estimates for every 100 working residents, there will be 35 seniors.

Rogers said nationally, fertility is trending downward, meaning that the under-18 population in the United States is smaller than it was a decade ago. Pennsylvania is no exception.

How to keep young professionals from fleeing the state remains a perennial topic of discussion in the Legislature. Gov. Tom Wolf’s February budget proposal included a $200 million Nelly Bly Scholarship Program that would pay tuition for college students enrolled at one the 14 state-run universities so long as they remained in Pennsylvania following their graduation.

“With less college debt, graduates can buy a car and a home, start a family and save for retirement,” he said. “The program also strengthens our 14 public universities and creates a talented labor force that Pennsylvania needs to thrive.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.