By Dan Klepinger and Ross Anderson.
You’ve probably noticed that Port Townsend and Jefferson County are old. But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
How old are we? According to the latest census update, the median age of Jefferson County residents is 58.9 – which means that half our population is older and half younger. According to one analysis, that makes us the nation’s third oldest county with a population of 20,000 or greater.
We are more than 20 years older than the statewide median of 37.3 and the national median of 38 years. And we are 10 years older than neighboring Clallam County, another retirement community, where the median age is 50. And 20 years older than Kitsap County.
The median age for Port Townsend is about the same as the county – not surprising since the city makes up about one-third of the county population.
There are towns around the country with older populations. Consider Sun City, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb of 37,000 with a median age of about 75 — 15 years older than Jefferson County. This is because Sun City is strictly limited to residents 55 or older. It has golf courses and hospitals, but no schools or playgrounds. So we have an apples and oranges issue, comparing an old apple with a legally-mandated older orange.
Most of these statistics are drawn from U.S. Census reports. The official Census occurs every 10 years and the last one was in 2010. But businesses and government agencies need more up-to-date figures. So the Census Bureau conducts annual surveys to update the statistics. These are not quite as accurate as a complete census, which explains the variations in population estimates.
But there is no doubt about it: We are old. How are we doing otherwise?
How about income? Median household income in our county is $54,471. Port Townsend has a somewhat lower median income of $52,000, which is far lower than the statewide median of $70,116, and lower than the national median of $60,293.
But rural areas like ours typically have lower costs of living. The Living Wage Calculator at MIT estimates that the cost of living in Jefferson County is 10 percent lower than the statewide figure. And our county median income is actually higher than most rural counties.
But there are important differences between longtime residents and recent arrivals. While the county population is growing slightly, we actually have a negative rate of growth among locals. From 2010 to 2019, Jefferson County reported 1,744 births and 3,336 deaths – a negative difference of 1,592.
This is offset by people moving here from Seattle and other cities. If it weren’t for in-migrants – mostly retiring boomers — Jefferson’s population would be shrinking.
Recent arrivals also tend to be more affluent, which has led to higher real estate prices, higher rents, higher property taxes and more.
We will explore some of those issues in another article later this week.
Photo of Barbara Manchester and Brad Matsen. Photograph by Joel Rogers.