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Is gray good for the county and state?

By Pat Stuart
Posted 8/4/22

With around 20% of Park County and Wyoming now being considered “seniors” and so classified for economic and social purposes, it’s interesting to look at what sociologists and …

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Around the County

Is gray good for the county and state?


With around 20% of Park County and Wyoming now being considered “seniors” and so classified for economic and social purposes, it’s interesting to look at what sociologists and economists are saying on the subject.

Traditionally, of course, economists have judged the progressive graying of a population as a negative.  

The reason?  Seniors demand good roads and need multiple county/city services.  Seniors, for the most part, have little interest in big budget items like schools.  Most of all, seniors require more health care and other social services than any other demographic.  In exchange, they pay minimal taxes.

The latter point has been particularly true here where our low tax structure has attracted retirees.

Those who do come in from out of state, the narrative goes, do little shopping here.  Their money for taxed goods often goes back to their states of origin or up to Montana.  Worse, the services that they do use are untaxed.   

There’s a lot of truth there.  But it’s hardly the whole story.

Here I’d best stop and mention (as they say, “in the interests of full disclosure”) that I am a senior who grew up here but also retired here from out of state.  But back to the subject.  

According to a recent TED talk, the whole question of aging and age is under review.  Probably, you’ve seen the spate of studies and news segments saying that our happiest years might come after 80.  

Is that why crime is almost unknown among seniors except as victims of crime?  Maybe, so.  Whatever, it’s a well-established fact that crime peaks at the age of 17, then declines per age group thereafter meaning the need of law enforcement for seniors is almost totally protective.

Other relevant facts.  The skillsets required for most jobs have changed while advances in medical science allow us to be healthier longer.

In some ways, I’m a walking example of the latter—emphasis on the word “walking.”  Without multiple joint transplants I wouldn’t be ambulatory at all.

Similar to many seniors, I brought good health insurance home with me, meaning my insurance dollars, paid out to local doctors and hospitals, has helped support good medical care for all.  Likewise, my retirement income from out-of-state may not contribute hugely to sales tax revenue but my need for services, like that of other seniors, supports a wide range of jobs for others.

But that’s only the beginning of the “healthier longer” story.  Once, the vast majority of us relied on strong backs and muscles to earn a living and, thereby, contribute to society.  Now, many of the seniors among us who farmed and worked in the trades during their younger years continue their jobs into their 60s and 70s.  I look around me and see, as one example, people in their advanced years still out on tractors, bringing in crops.  They may not be tossing hay bales around, but they don’t need to as long as they have the right equipment.  

I see people with gray hair and wrinkles running cash registers at Walmart and volunteering at our museums.  Could the museums even afford some of their programs without their volunteers?  Others of my generation here are serving on boards, running charities, managing programs for our youth, taking hours out of their days to give back to society.

In short, people carry their skills, honed over decades, into the volunteer economy which has an unmeasured (and, therefore, only guessed at) impact on the GDP.  

Whatever we do, there’s one thing we mostly don’t do.  That’s “sit around.”  It’s another accepted fact that the worst thing you can do to yourself is to “retire” in place and do nothing.  Thus, and almost by definition, if you’ve survived to take advantage of the “happiness” of the advanced decades, you’ve stayed active and, for the most part, remained a contributing member of society.

Which brings me back to Wyoming, Park County, and our economic and social situation.  Here, I’ll admit to being a bit of a Pollyanna, but I would posit that, while a balanced population is key to a healthy economy, growing our older population might give us an unexpected edge.

In fact, our older folks might just be one of our greatest assets.

Around the County