Census: Utah getting older, but only slightly

May 18 2011 - 11:17pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- While the baby boom generation is making America's population older, an ongoing baby boom in Utah is helping to maintain the state's status as one of the youngest in the country.

Almost a third of the state's 2.7 million people are under 20 years of age and nearly 20 percent are under the age of 10, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data includes a county-by-county breakdown of age, household makeup and minority populations.

While the percentage of people younger than 20 years old decreased from 2000 figures by about 2 percent, the state's population increased by more than 150,000.

The youthful population is reflected in the average household size of 3.1 people, one of the largest in the country, said Juliette Tennert, the chief economist with the Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

That young population is due in large part to the membership of many Utah residents in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which encourages large families. It is also boosted by Hispanics -- which now make up 13 percent of the state's population -- who tend to have more children, Tennert said.

Still, the state's median age actually increased from 27.1 to 29.2. Tennert said that was expected because ages are increasing across the country as baby boomers get older.

The median age increased in every county, although some are still very young.

Utah County, the state's second-largest county with 516,564 residents, has a median age of 24.6.

While that is partially attributable to the presence of two universities, the population of children under 14 years old accounted for more than 30 percent of the county's total population.

That puts a lot of pressure on the county's school districts, especially when state per-pupil funding is historically among the lowest in the country.

Alpine School District, the largest in the county, is currently proposing a $210 million bond to build five new schools and reconstruct a dozen others. District officials have said they expect more than 13,000 new students within the next five years.

The state's Hispanic population is also increasing in almost every county, but the growth is especially notable along the urban Wasatch Front around Salt Lake City. Salt Lake County has the largest percentage of Hispanics at more than 17 percent.

Tennert said that is because the most economic opportunity is in those areas, particularly in construction because of a major redevelopment project in downtown Salt Lake City and an expansion of Interstate 15 in Utah County.

"You're going to see those populations increase where there is economic opportunity," she said.

What remained stable in Utah is the traditional two-parent family, with only negligible increases in households with a single parent or unmarried partners.

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