More from the Census
Another census release confirms trends we have been talking about for over two years. In Montgomery County we are seeing more adult children living with their parents, more female-headed households, and we are getting older. The median age has increased by almost two percent in 10 years to 38.5 years.
For the most part, this was expected. Consider the 36-percent increase in the number of adult children living at home over the past 10 years.
There are a number of reasons for this increase.
- The cost of living in MoCo and other D.C. metro counties is often beyond the reach of most first-time homebuyers coming out of college. The cost of renting is also very high, and with student loans eating up income, there is often no option.
- It is common in many minority groups for children to stay in the home longer. In some cultures, children live at home until they are married. Our increasing minority population adds to the trend.
The increase in the median age corresponds with a jump of 25 percent in the number of households with people over 65. In fact, a full 24 percent of all households in the county are headed by that cohort. We cannot ignore the impact of that.
Consider for the moment that 63 percent of the senior population in MoCo over the age of 65 owns a home. Now, add to the mix that 97.5 percent of all residentially owned property is zoned for single-family houses. Just another stat, right?
Wrong. At several community meetings people have indicated their beliefs that the new multi-unit buildings in White Flint or Wheaton bring lots of school-aged children who will likely crowd some of our schools. Not necessarily. The three new brick condo buildings next to the Harris Teeter store in White Flint generated 16 to 18 school-aged children. The ratio is higher for the condo building I rented in downtown Silver Spring.
Now consider the school capacity issue in Bethesda two years ago, when we experienced a sudden influx of new school-aged kids. It was not the new construction, it was because of two factors:
1. The declining economy brought something like 2,000 kids back into the public system from private schools.
2. Turnover in the existing single-family houses from seniors with no children in the household for one or two generations to a couple with kids. Voilá — instant students.
Like we saw in Bethesda, we will see considerable turnover in the single-family housing market in MoCo over the next 20 years. The houses will not be purchased by Gen X and Y’ers with no kids. They are not buying. The average age of first-time home buyers nationwide has reached 34. Coupled with the fact that young adults today are waiting to marry until an average of 35 years of age, it is easy to see that the bulk of our housing does not attract Gen X and Y.
The last of the baby boomers will hit 65 in the next two years. Already, areas of the county are seeing sharp increases in student population resulting from the turnover in existing housing. A few years ago, I heard a resident at a public meeting ask “Who is going to buy my five-bedroom house?” That is a good question. It could be a single young person who rents out space to several friends, or it could be two families sharing housing while they build up enough capital to buy another property.
Our existing housing stock will present the biggest challenge to our school system, not the construction of new multi-unit buildings.
The new demographic information also raises concern that we are aging faster than we are replacing our working age population. The estimate is that the ratio of working-aged adults to seniors will drop from 5.3 to 3.5 in the next 20 years. Now if the younger folk we need to replace us cannot afford to live here, and we don’t have enough housing product to attract them, then we cannot alter this worrying drop in working-aged adults.
We are not the first county to experience this phenomenon. Other places around the country are looking at both the fiscal and social impacts of the aging trend.
Another important stat from this new census release is the 10.6-percent increase in the number of households headed by women. It is accepted that women will start the bulk of new businesses in the future. Balancing work with children has many impacts, from the need for increased access to transit and day care, to a demand for home occupation opportunities. These women will want to be networked, too. As women continue to generate jobs, new challenges will arise.
In an earlier post, I featured an interview with the female head of a restaurant in Burtonsville. Jessica Rodriguez told me she lives four minutes from home so she can spend time with her family during the day as she heads the restaurant. While that works for her, not everyone is able to organize their business and home life so close in this county. Her restaurant workers are challenged by the lack of transit in the area to get to work on weekends, any restaurant’s busiest time.
Have we structured our economic development strategies and permitting for the type of women-run businesses we will see more and more? With the increase of various ethnic groups in our county comes a need for different approaches to financing opportunities. Something similar to micro loans could be effective in helping women begin small businesses while balancing home life.
We are witnessing part of a bigger pattern that will shape all aspects of our daily lives — a rapid change in the social and cultural makeup of the county and the country.
The industrial revolution and the mass migration from South to North in the first 40 years of the last century are both events that shaped the political, social and physical forms of the national landscape. At the time, no one really prepared local communities for the dramatic changes.
We have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next major shift. The rapid growth in the ethnic makeup of our county, the changes in home ownership trends to rental housing; the impacts on infrastructure, mobility, and service provisions; and financing our infrastructure and future service needs are all something we have to consider.
In the past, we built what we said we would. We subsidized sprawl with infrastructure, and now it has to be rebuilt at a time when so much is changing.
We can do this right. Over the past three years, we have developed the framework to begin to open up opportunities for new preferences in housing and lifestyle, and continue to do so with groundbreaking plans like White Flint, Wheaton and soon Kensington and Takoma Langley. Burtonsville and Long Branch will quickly follow. These plans are showing how we can accommodate change strategically while maintaining our existing strengths.