- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

RICHMOND Virginia's population shifted a little toward youthfulness last year, with Northern Virginia in particular leaning toward the lower end of the age range, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
The number of Virginians younger than 65 and the number older than 65 both rose in the year that ended in July, up 86,060 and 10,732, respectively, according to the estimates released last week. The younger-than-65 group grew slightly as a percentage of the state's total population, reaching 88.8 percent.
The trend was most evident in fast-growing Northern Virginia, where five localities placed among the top 50 nationally for residents younger than 65 as a percent of the total population: Manassas Park at 13th, with 95.3 percent; Prince William County at 16th, with 95 percent; Loudoun County at 25th, with 94.5 percent; Stafford County at 29th, with 94.3 percent; and Manassas at 35th, with 94.2 percent.
Contributing to that trend were some of the state's highest birthrates and lowest death rates. Manassas had Virginia's highest birthrate, with 25 births for every 1,000 residents, followed by Alexandria with 19, Loudoun County with 18, Prince William County with 17 and Fairfax County with 15. Statewide, the birthrate was 10 per 1,000 residents.

The rate of natural population increase in the region the number of births minus the number of deaths also exceeded the statewide rate by a wide margin. For Virginia as a whole, the natural rate of increase was seven per 1,000 residents. In contrast, Manassas posted a net increase of 21, 12th highest in the nation. Loudoun County's rate of 14 placed it 48th nationally, Prince William County's 13.2 ranked 64th, and Alexandria's 13.1 placed it at 68th.
Bill Vaughan, senior research manager for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development, noted that his county's population, like those of its neighbors, had been among the youngest in the nation for several years.
Localities on the outer edge of the Washington suburbs have grown rapidly for some time, in part because housing has been more affordable there than in areas closer to the District, Mr. Vaughan said. That affordability helps attract younger home buyers, he said.
"About 40 percent of our households are married couples with children," Mr. Vaughan said. "It presents a different kind of challenge to social services, to schools."
Helping keep birthrates high and death rates low are two full-service hospitals within the county, Mr. Vaughan said. In addition, he said, "Our emergency and rescue departments are top-notch, and our crime rates are low."
Adding to the region's growth during the year was a continued influx of foreign migrants. Northern Virginia received about 70 percent of the 32,551 foreign migrants who set up residence in the state last year, according to the bureau's estimates.
In Prince William County, "We're also experiencing a fairly rapid growth of minorities. Particularly the Hispanic rate of growth is increasing," said Mr. Vaughan.
At the opposite end of the age scale, Lancaster County on the Chesapeake Bay had the eighth-highest percentage of residents older than 65 among the more than 3,000 U.S. localities included in the Census Bureau report. Of the county's 11,463 residents, 29.1 percent, or nearly one in three, are 65 or older.
Neighboring Northumberland County ranked second in Virginia and 34th nationally, with 26.1 percent of its estimated 12,431 residents 65 or older.
Both counties are popular locations for retirees, offer limited economic opportunities for younger, working residents, and have been home for several years to Virginia's oldest average populations.
Nearby Middlesex and Mathews counties also are ranked high for residents older than 65, at 22.1 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
Virginia's least-populated locality, Highland County, also has a high percentage of residents older than 65, at 21.8 percent. Highland saw the state's biggest negative rate of natural increase last year, with the county's four births considerably outnumbered by its 46 deaths. The population fell last year to 2,415 from 2,516 the year before, according to the census estimates.
Like Lancaster and Northumberland, Highland County is a popular retirement and recreational location with limited economic opportunities, said Robin Sullenberger, chairman of the board of supervisors.
"About half the county is absentee-owned," Mr. Sullenberger noted. "People buy weekend and summer properties here, and they have an abiding love for the community, but they aren't here year-round."
Statewide, 11.2 percent of the population was 65 or older last year, compared with 12.3 percent of the national population, according to the bureau's estimates.

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