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Research Reveals How — and Where — Older Adults Live

Census reports show new insights for adults 65 and older

Census concept - multicolored puzzle

Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

En español | New research from the Census Bureau shows that from Florida to Alaska, Virginia to Missouri, older Americans are gathering in some communities where they may find that they have much in common with their neighbors.

At the top of the list is Sumter County, Florida, which has the nation's highest percentage of residents age 65 and older, according to new data. The Census Bureau's numbers show that more than half of the county's population — 55.6 percent — were over 65 during the period from 2014 to 2018. That's up from 47.6 percent in 2009-2013. Sumter, which is west of Orlando in central Florida, is home to The Villages retirement community.

The new nationwide survey data for the 2014-2018 five-year period offers an interesting profile of the country's older population. “By looking at the latest data, resources can be provided to support not only the aging population, but all groups across the country,” says Victoria Velkoff, associate director for demographic programs for the Census.

Here are a few insights about how America's older adults cluster nationwide:

  • Income: Median household income for homes with someone age 65 and older was highest in Hawaii ($65,086) and lowest in Mississippi ($34,275).
  • Veterans: Of the 18.6 million veterans in the United States, 49.5 percent were 65 years and older. The counties with the largest proportions of veterans among older residents include Comanche County, Oklahoma; Coryell County, Texas; Lyon County, Nevada; Nye County, Nevada; and Okaloosa County, Florida.
  • Living alone: New York County, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and St. Louis had some of the highest percentages of households in which someone over the age of 65 was living alone.
  • Working: In Alexandria, Virginia, 30.3 percent of people age 65 and older are still working, one of the highest shares in the nation. Other counties with similar shares include Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska; Garfield County, Colorado; Marin County, California; Montgomery County, Maryland; and Windham County, Vermont.
  • Education: Alexandria also was one of the leaders for counties in which older residents had earned a bachelor's degree or higher, which may account for why many of its older residents are able to continue working later in life. Other counties that ranked high by this measure of education were Boulder County, Colorado; Fairfax County, Virginia; Howard County, Maryland; Marin County, California; and Montgomery County, Maryland.

These statistics come as the bureau readies the launch of the 2020 Census, which aims to count every resident of the United States. The U.S. Constitution requires such a count to take place every 10 years, and the numbers gathered determine congressional representation and shape how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed to states and local communities for vital programs and services for the next decade.

The nation's population can shift notably by state from year to year. For example, 10 states lost population between 2018 and 2019, the Census Bureau recently found: New York (-76,790), Illinois (-51,250), West Virginia (-12,144), Louisiana (-10,896), Connecticut (-6,233), Mississippi (-4,871), Hawaii (-4,721), New Jersey (-3,835), Alaska (-3,594) and Vermont (-369).

The 2020 Census count will begin on Jan. 21 in Toksook Bay, a rural Alaska Native village located on the Bering Sea. Census takers there start early in the year because the frozen ground makes it easier to get to the remote villages. Most households in the rest of the United States will start getting invitations by mail to respond to the 2020 Census in mid-March.

"Residents of remote Alaskan villages have limited internet connectivity and no at-home mail delivery, so conducting the count with census takers going door-to-door is critically important,” says Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

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