By Ted Shorack

The Bulletin

Population estimates released last month show Deschutes County had the largest percentage increase in senior residents among Oregon counties in recent years.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the number of residents 65 and older in Deschutes County rose by about 39 percent between April 2010 and July 2015.

The increasing senior population in the county and across the state is an ongoing trend that is likely to continue as residents age and people move to the region to retire.

“Seniors are the fastest growing age group especially because of the surge of baby boomers aging and Oregon being a desirable destination for retirees,” said Risa Proehl, the program manager with the Population Research Center at Portland State University.

The center also develops population estimates for Oregon and its cities and counties. Proehl said the center has similar estimates to the Census Bureau on the rising senior population. In the next 10 to 15 years the age group will continue to increase and be a greater percentage of the overall population in Oregon, she said.

Between 2010 and 2015, Crook County’s senior population increased by about 26 percent, while Jefferson County’s rose by about 22 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates there were 33,117 residents in Deschutes County in 2015 who were 65 or older, which is nearly 19 percent of 175,268, the total county population at the time. In 2010, the estimated senior residents were about 15 percent of the total population.

Proehl said the PSU estimates have Deschutes County as the fastest-growing senior population in the state based on the combination of residents aging and people moving here. Central Oregon and the entire state is a desirable place for retirees, she said, because of relatively affordable housing compared with other states and the many available outdoor activities.

Matt Verdieck, executive director of the Central Oregon Council On Aging, said the nonprofit is anticipating a need for more funding as the senior population increases. The council relies on funding from the federal government as well as local and private financial support. The organization provides home delivered meals, legal services, health insurance counseling and other services.

“It will be a challenge moving forward with the amount of growth, so we continue to find ways to bring more funding and support while at the same time we’re targeting our programs to the areas of greatest need and working to deliver those services as efficiently as possible,” said Verdieck.

Scott Aycock, community and economic development manager for Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, which manages Cascades East Transit, said cities, transit service and health care providers are all trying to prepare for the influx of seniors.

“Everyone in the region is aware of the tidal wave of older folks that are going to have — among other things — mobility issues, and we know that it’s going to have a big impact on the need for transit service,” Aycock said.

Bend and Deschutes County have been among the fastest-growing cities and counties in the state in recent years as the economy bounces back from the Great Recession.

Damon Runberg, the regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department in Central Oregon, said the increase in the senior population who are retired causes a “double impact” to the local economy.

“They aren’t contributing to the labor force, but they are creating a labor demand at the same time,” Runberg said, by spending money.

The same economic issue is occurring around the country, he said, and is not unique to Deschutes County. Runberg said the development of OSU-Cascades will be crucial in drawing young people to the area who can join the labor force.

“It’s great that they’re contributing job growth,” Runberg said about retirees, “but that’s not our crisis right now. It’s finding workers to fill the jobs.”

The Census Bureau estimates showed Florida as the state with the highest percentage of residents 65 years or older among its total population in 2015. The age group was 19.4 percent of the entire state. In Oregon, nearly 6 percent of the state’s population was 65 or older in 2015.

Sumter County in central Florida was the only county in the country in 2015 with the majority of its population reaching retirement age. About 54.8 percent of the county’s residents were estimated to be 65 years or older, according to the Census Bureau. The Villages, a sprawling 55-and-over gated community, is located in Sumter County and has more than 100,000 residents.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,