Whatcom County’s getting older, according to census data, but how fast are we aging?

Two centuries of population change in the U.S.

The senior population will be larger than the under-18 population for the first time in U.S. history in 2035, says the U.S. Census Bureau.
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The senior population will be larger than the under-18 population for the first time in U.S. history in 2035, says the U.S. Census Bureau.

If you’re feeling a bit older getting out of bed this morning, take heart — we’re actually getting older a touch slower than the rest of the nation.

According to population estimates released Thursday, June 20, by the U.S. Census Bureau, Whatcom County’s median age grew to 37.3 years old, as of July 1, 2018. That’s approximately 0.2 years older than we were a year earlier and 0.7 years older than in the last census in 2010, when the county’s median age was 36.6.

As old as that may make you feel, it’s a little slower than what the rest of the nation is seeing, according to a Census Bureau press release.

The median age in the United States grew to 38.2 in 2018, which is a full year’s increase over 2010. North Dakota was the only state in the nation to see its median age decrease, from 37.0 in 2010 to 35.2 in 2018, while Washington state’s median age was 37.7 — up 0.1 years from 2017 and 0.4 years from 2010.

“The nation is aging — more than four out of every five counties were older in 2018 than in 2010. This aging is driven in large part by baby boomers crossing over the 65-year-old mark. Now, half of the U.S. population is over the age of 38.2,” Luke Rogers, chief of the Population Estimates Branch at the Census Bureau, said in the release.

Half of the nation’s counties had median ages between 40 and 49 years, according to the release, so we’re still younger than most.

In Whatcom County in 2018, 16.9% of our population (approximately 38,141 of the 225,685 people estimated to be in the county) was 65 or older. That age group saw a 2.3% growth from 2017 (37,279) and a 43.2% growth since 2010, when there were 26,640 Whatcom seniors.

Whatcom’s youngest age groups, meanwhile, now make up a smaller portion of the county’s total population.

In 2010, 6% of the population (12,067 people) was under the age of 5. Though that number has climbed by only 2.9% to 12,413 people — it’s only 5.5% of the total population in 2018.

The age bracket of 18 and younger saw similar dips in percentages, as 19.5% of Whatcom’s population (44,009 people) were in that demographic in 2018. In 2010 the age group accounted for 21% of the county’s total population (42,205 people).

Bellingham actually had an even lower percentage of residents in the youngest age groups in 2018, with just 4.3% of the population in the 5 and younger age group (approximately 3,899 of the estimated 90,665 people in town) and 15.8% 18 and younger (approximately 14,325 people). But Bellingham also had a lower percentage of people 65 and older compared to the county at 14.2% (approximately 12,874 people).

Both Washington state and the rest of the nation had higher percentages of the population under the age of 18 (22.2% in Washington and 22.6% nationally).

Other Whatcom census highlights

Bellingham’s racial makeup was unchanged from 2017 to 2018. According to the data, 82.6% of the city’s population identifies as white alone, 1.5% as black alone, 1.6% as Native American or Alaskan native alone, 6.2% as Asian alone, 0.2% as native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone, 5.2% as two or more races and 8.3% as Hispanic — identical percentages as in 2017.

Bellingham has become more diversified since 2010, though, when 87.1% of the population identified as white alone, 1.3% identified as black alone, 1.9% identified as Native American or Alaskan native alone, 4.9% identified as Asian alone, 0.1% as native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone, 2.9% identified as two or more races and 6.4% identified as Hispanic.

From 2017 to 2018, Whatcom County saw some growth in the percentage of the population identifying as black alone (1.2%, up from 1%), as Native American or Alaskan native alone (3.3%, up from 3%), as Asian alone (4.5%, up from 3.9%), as two or more races (3.9%, up from 3%) and as Hispanic (9.4%, up from 8.7%). Each of those categories was substantially up over 2010 numbers, when 87.6% of the county identified as white alone. That number is now 86.7%.

Whatcom County’s male-to-female ratio in 2018 became a lot closer. In 2018, there were 113,971 women — approximately 50.5% of the population. In 2017, there were 113,997 women — approximately 51.4% of the county’s population. Bellingham’s gender percentage held steady at 50.4% women, though that number has dropped since 2010, when it was 51.5% women.

Though the percentage of Bellingham’s population judged to be in poverty remained constant from 2017 to 2018 at 21.6% (approximately 19,584 people), Whatcom County’s number of people considered in poverty dropped. Thirteen percent of the county’s population was judged in poverty (approximately 29,339 people), according to the census data, compared to 14.3% in 2017 (approximately 31,630 people). Those numbers were still higher than the state (11%) and national (12.3%) averages, though.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.