(Center for Rural Pennsylvania)
A projected decline in rural Pennsylvania’s population over the coming decades has policymakers in Harrisburg eager to find long-term solutions to help sustain rural communities.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a 13-member bipartisan, bicameral agency, which serves as a resource on rural Pennsylvania, presented population data from the Pennsylvania State Data Center on Wednesday, illustrating the problem.
The population of Pennsylvania’s rural counties is projected to decline 5.8% over the next 30 years, with the state projected to grow just 1.6% based on increases in urban population.
Dr. Kyle Kopko, Center for Rural Pennsylvania executive director, noted that 48 of 67 counties are currently classified as rural.
State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), who also serves as the Center’s chairperson, said that rural Pennsylvania is “facing a real challenge” when it comes to sustaining its population long term.
“These projections reveal significant population and demographic changes forthcoming in Pennsylvania, and it is more important now than ever, to start the discussion on long-term solutions to not only preserve and sustain rural areas in the Commonwealth, but also help them to thrive,” Yaw said.
An added concern noted in the report, is that the number of residents over 65 is expected to increase sharply through 2050. When coupled with a declining birth rate, the increase means rural Pennsylvanians over the age of 65 will soon outnumber those under 20.
“What are the policy implications of this?” state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) asked.
“The demand for more senior care, coupled with the previously mentioned decrease in working-age adults, presents a lot of challenges for the Commonwealth,” Schwank said. “Additionally, the financial pressures from these changes will be especially pronounced in rural areas.”
“The population projections will help inform medium and long-term planning at the county, regional, and state levels,” state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, who also serves as vice chair for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors, said.
Pashinski, a Democrat representing Luzerne County, said policymakers are “trying to get ahead of what we see coming down the road.”
“We have to start this discussion now,” Pashiniski said, adding that it will take the efforts of nonprofits, local officials, and other stakeholders to combat the trend.
While concerning, Kopko said that the population projections presented on Wednesday are consistent with the findings of similar estimates for Ohio and West Virginia.
“What we are experiencing here is not unique,” Kopko said. “Communities should carefully consider the implications of these projections.”
Kopko said he was optimistic, adding that Pennsylvania is well positioned, with the help of policy intervention, to proactively address the decline.
“Data isn’t destiny,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
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