Many areas saw a rise in their median age along with a growth in overall population, a report shows.
By RICHARD DANIELSON, JULIE CHURCH and ROBERT FARLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001
As the U.S. Census Bureau released its community-by-community population counts this spring, one bit of conventional wisdom seemed clear.
North Pinellas had seen robust growth, and much of it could seemingly be traced to the waves of families with children who are supplanting the empty-nest retirees who moved here first.
That, however, is only part of the picture. Last week, the Census Bureau released more figures showing the median age of Pinellas County as a whole -- and individual communities such as Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Oldsmar, Largo and Safety Harbor -- rose from 1990 to 2000.
It's not the number of kids driving the growth.
It's their parents.
North of Curlew Road, for example, the latest round of census results shows that baby boomers, especially those between 45 and 54, accounted for the largest numbers of new residents in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. There were similar, though less pronounced, increases among North Pinellas residents ages 35 to 44 and 55 to 59.
Because folks in their 30s, 40s and 50s often are raising families, the number of children who live in North Pinellas also rose. But that increase did not match the growth of the baby boomers either in sheer numbers or percentage terms. School kids are not the ones driving all those minivans and sport utility vehicles on U.S. 19.
A few communities bucked the trend. In Clearwater and Dunedin, the median age dropped a bit. In Seminole, it dropped 9.5 percent. The median is the midpoint, at which half the population is older and half is younger.
In contrast to the growth among the baby boomers and their families, the number of residents in their 20s and early 30s dropped in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Largo, Safety Harbor and Dunedin. For example, in Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs combined, the number of residents age 20 to 34 dropped by more than 2,400.
Twentysomethings who know the area say there are several reasons for the decline.
Katie Harting, 27, of New Port Richey, grew up in Tarpon Springs, graduated from Tarpon Springs High School and returned to the school to teach trigonometry and geometry. She wanted to live in her hometown, but couldn't afford a home.
"I looked everywhere from Clearwater north and found I just couldn't afford it in North Pinellas County," she said.
Harting also said that many of her friends who have left the area moved to Hillsborough County, where jobs are more plentiful for young professionals.
Colleen and Grant McIlroy are friends of Harting who moved to New Tampa in the past year. Employment was one reason they left Pinellas, said Mrs. McIlroy, 27.
She also said the move away from Pinellas had a lot to do with where they like to spend their free time.
"For things to do, it's too far away," she said. "It takes too long to get anywhere."
In Oldsmar, the number of young adults grew by 65 people, while the city's overall population jumped by more than 3,500. Likewise, the number of young adults in Clearwater and Seminole registered little change.
Here's how the mix of young, old and middle-age has changed in selected North Pinellas communities during the past decade.
Pinellas County's oldest incorporated city saw its median age rise from 41 to 45.4 since 1990.
The number of Tarpon Springs residents ages 45 to 54 grew nearly 63 percent. The next fastest growing age group was those 85 and older, which grew 59 percent. That group was considerably smaller, however, so the addition of a couple of hundred senior residents created a big percentage gain.
The number of children in the city grew by up to 12 percent. At the same time, the number of young adults between ages 20 and 34 dropped by nearly 470 people.
The median age of Palm Harbor's population rose from 39.9 to 43.2.
As in Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar, the largest number of new residents was born in the decade or two after World War II.
Connie Davis, executive director of the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, said the rise in middle-age residents can be tied to parents who are settled in their jobs. Palm Harbor's upscale housing, good schools and sense of community make it an attractive option for those boomers, she said.
In addition, employment trends toward service-sector jobs play to Palm Harbor's strengths, Davis said. Many of the area's jobs are in sales, finance, retail and health occupations.
"It's become a very attractive place to live because of all those things," she said.
But Palm Harbor saw its biggest percentage increase was among those 85 and older. That group more than doubled, to nearly 2,200 people.
At the same time, the number of retirement-age residents younger than 85 dropped. Palm Harbor's population ages 60 to 64 shrunk by 11.7 percent, and the number of residents age 65 to 74 dropped by 16.6 percent. Davis thinks many of those people are moving to cheaper areas, such as Spring Hill and Brooksville.
But there could be other reasons, too.
Irene Rausch and Phyllis Lodovico, who run the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center, said they have noticed a bit of an exodus of older residents back north, especially after a spouse dies or if they fall ill.
Others came to Florida and found they weren't ready for Florida living, Lodovico said.
Rausch said some of the increase among those 85 and older is probably due to the fact that people are living longer. She notes that a number of new assisted-living facilities and nursing homes have opened locally during the past decade, places like Balmoral Retirement Community on Tampa Road and the Long Shadow Inn on Nebraska Avenue.
Politically, the push to create a charter middle school for Oldsmar didn't pan out for its main supporters.
It was, however, based on a clear demographic trend.
In Oldsmar, the number of children ages 10 to 14 grew by more than 79 percent in the past decade. Growth in the number of teenagers ages 15 to 19 took a 66 percent jump.
This was driven, in part, by an influx of new residents old enough to see their children enter middle and high school. The number of adults ages 45 to 54 in Oldsmar more than doubled, while the number of 35- to 44-year-olds grew by 70 percent.
Oldsmar's biggest increase in its elderly population came in the 75-to-84 age group, whose numbers nearly doubled.
Clearwater's median age dropped slightly, from 42.2 to 41.8 years, as the number of children in the city increased up to 26 percent. The largest increase in the city, however, was among adults age 45 to 54.
At the same time, the city lost more than 3,000 residents ages 60 to 84.
Largo saw double-digit reductions in the number of residents in their 20s and early 30s, and slight dips in its population ages 60 to 84.
But the city ended up getting older as the number of middle-age residents increased by up to 45 percent and the number of adults 85 and older grew by nearly 52 percent.
Dunedin's median age stayed virtually unchanged. The city was one of a handful of communities in North Pinellas to see the number of children younger than 5 go down, but the decrease was only 1.9 percent. The number of people age 15 to 19 also dipped slightly, but there was a bigger loss among 20- to 34-year-olds.
In Safety Harbor, the number of children younger than 5 dropped 11.3 percent, but the number of children in all other age groups grew. The city lost more than a quarter of its residents in their 20s and early 30s.
But strong growth in the number of 45- to 59-year-olds and among residents 85 and older pushed the median age up significantly, from 37.9 to 42.2 years old.
Seminole got significantly younger as the number of children in the city grew up to 70 percent, the population of young adults slipped only slightly, the population of baby boomers increased by more than half, and the number of residents age 60 to 84 dropped. There also was relatively modest growth, by comparison, in the number of the city's oldest residents.