New Census numbers show county’s older population growing, while younger population begins to shrink; county becoming more racially diverse

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

This file photo from July 2015 shows a westward look across Lawrence.

Douglas County residents, if your cabinets have a growing amount of Metamucil in them, don’t feel bad. New government statistics show the county is becoming a much older place.

But the younger folks must not like our pockets full of Werther’s candy because the same statistics show the county is in the beginning stages of losing its important 18- to 24-year-old population.

The Census Bureau recently released 2018 demographic estimates for every county in the country, and there is a lot to unpack in them. In addition to the age issues, the numbers also show Douglas County still isn’t very racially diverse, but that most minority populations are growing rapidly here.

First, the news about us getting older.

For the first time in probably its history, the median age in Douglas County is now above 30 years old. In 2018, the median age was 30.3 years, meaning half the population was younger than that age and half was older. We’ve always had a young population due to our status as a college town. We still do compared to the rest of the state. Kansas overall has a median age of 36.9 years. But for a college town, we aren’t that young anymore. Riley County, home to Kansas State, has a median of 25.5 years, for example, and the home county of Iowa State is 26.3 years. Douglas County is beginning to look more like the home counties of the University of Iowa and the University of Missouri — 30.2 and 31.4 years, respectively.

One reason for the increase is that Douglas County’s retiree population is growing rapidly. Almost every county is getting older — just more than 80% of counties nationwide got older in 2018 — but Douglas County is doing so at a faster rate than many.

I looked at six other counties — three near us and three university communities in nearby states — and Douglas County’s 65 and older population was one of only two that posted growth rates above 50% for the decade. Here’s a look at population totals for people 65 and older and the growth rate from 2010 to 2018:

• Douglas County: 14,954, up 51.5%

• Johnson County: 86,723, up 46.1%

• Riley County: 7,009, up 34.5%

• Shawnee County: 32,296, up 26%

• Boone County, Mo. (Univ. of Missouri): 22,058, up 46.3%

• Johnson County, Iowa (Univ. of Iowa): 17,736, up 58%

• Story County, Iowa (Iowa State): 11,812, up 32%

Area leaders have worked to make Douglas County a more attractive place for retirees. This sample size is too small to say their efforts are working. But they sure might be. With more crunching, these numbers can be used to see how Douglas County’s growth rate ranks against all the counties in the region. As community leaders continue to fund retiree attraction efforts, those would be good numbers to have.

But there are some potentially worrisome numbers to watch as well. Douglas County appears to be in the early stages of a trend where people 18 to 24 years old are leaving the community. 2018 marked the second consecutive year that the county lost population in that age group. It now stands at 28,351 people, down from a high of 28,782. For the decade, the county has seen 3.8% growth in that age group.

So, it is not exactly time to worry, but it is noteworthy that the group had been posting steady growth and now it is declining. It may not be overly surprising. We’ve been reporting for awhile that University of Kansas enrollment numbers in Lawrence have been struggling to grow.

Enrollment at Kansas State has struggled even more, and it is showing up in its 18-24 population figures. Riley County has a negative growth rate for 18- to 24-year-olds for the decade, down 1.7%. The age group has been in decline since 2012 there.

It is not that way in all college towns, though. The home counties for the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Missouri have all seen growth for the decade, although at Mizzou it has been erratic. But in Iowa City the age group is up 13.7% for the decade and in Ames it is up 16.8%.

They say demographics are destiny. A college town that is losing its 18-to-24-year-old population isn’t so much tempting fate as much as it is poking it with a sharp stick. That, along with KU enrollment, will be a trend to continue to watch.

Now, on to the numbers about race.

There have long been communities more racially diverse than Douglas County. There are lots of small places that have a larger Hispanic population than we do, and most larger cities have a larger black population. Douglas County historically has been about 85% white.

But the latest numbers show that is changing some. Douglas County is now 83.4% white, down from 85.8% in 2010.

Most minority populations are growing significantly in Douglas County. But the numbers also show Douglas County continues to be underrepresented in some ways, and over represented in others. For example, our total population is the fifth largest in the state, but our black population is the seventh largest. Our American Indian population, though, is the second largest in the state. Here is a snapshot:

• Hispanic population: 7,740 people in 2018, up 36.9% since 2010. Hispanics are 6.3% of the county’s total population, up from 5% in 2010. We have the eighth largest Hispanic population in the state.

• Black population: 5,680, up 25.8% since 2010. African Americans are 4.6% of the total population, up from 4% in 2010. We have the seventh largest black population in the state.

• Asian population: 6,061, up 45% from 2010. Asians are 4.9% of the total population, up from 3.7% in 2010. We have the fourth largest Asian population in the state.

• American Indian/Alaska Native: 3,235, up 3.7% from 2010. American Indians are 2.6% of the total population, down from 2.8% in 2010. We have the second largest American Indian population in the state.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.