All segments of Wayne County’s population are on the rise, as it has increased for all ages since the 2000 census.

CensusViewer, which accesses and analyzes demographic data, notes that the total population in 2000 for the county was 113,301. That number jumped to 122,623 a decade later in the 2010 census.

In some areas, the average age has decreased, like at Wayne Community College. But in other areas, agencies like Wayne County Services on Aging are preparing for a “silver tsunami.”

WAYNE COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Patty Pfeiffer, vice president for academic and student services, said that the college has seen a slight dip in age during the past 10 years for students seeking degrees, diplomas and certificates, which represents 68 percent of students at Wayne Community College.

“Our average age 10 years ago was 28,” she said. “Our current average age is 25.”

Pfeiffer said the number reflects an improved economy following the 2008 recession, along with other factors. As the recession faded and jobs became more plentiful, older students started going back into the workforce.

“Those who are coming back to us are coming for short-term credentials that give them the opportunity to get additional job skills or improve their job skills to be able to go back and get better jobs,” she said. “Many of them are bettering themselves with some short-term training. Others are coming back and retraining.”

Craig Foucht, executive director of the Wayne Business and Industry Center at the college, said that when looking at the average age of students, it was pretty much the same up until the 2011-12 school year.

“When you start looking at Wayne Early Middle College High School coming on board, and we started having an early college high school, we’ve got a population of high school students that are taking career college promise courses, which is 200 plus (students) now,” he said. “You factor those in and now what you have is a flat age group that starts to decline a little bit as far as the median age. But that’s simply because of the innovative high school that’s now on the campus.”

Pfeiffer said two major factors come into play: bringing in the innovative high school and having more career college promise students. Career college promise students are those in high school who, at the same time, are also enrolled in college courses. Unlike Wayne Early Middle College, which is located at WCC, career college promise students go to the college from high school or take online courses for college credit.

She also said that according to data put out by the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment for students age 24 and older has continued to decline nationwide. So Wayne County’s information is in line with the rest of the nation.

Foucht noted a slight decline in student enrollment from 2008 to 2018, according to Local Education Agency data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

“There was a little uptick in 2014, and then it’s gone down a little,” he said. “But you’re only talking about a roughly 700-student difference, which I would still consider to be fairly flat.”

He said the data included students in all of Wayne County’s public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“I think there is an opportunity for the pipeline of students coming out of the public schools to college to increase, as far as the number of students coming directly to Wayne Community College,” Foucht said. “There has been a lot of emphasis on the fact of ‘Do I need that bachelor’s degree?’ ‘Can I get a technical degree and get a job now?’

“There is a lot of movement around that, and I think people are starting to rethink higher education and rethink occupations.”

And some school districts have aligned their calendar to the community college calendar because a third of their students all take career college promises courses, Foucht said.

“I think there’s an opportunity where the median age could decrease at our school if we were to do something creative like trying to align our schools and trying to give students more opportunity to expose themselves to more degrees that lead to occupations,” he said.

Another factor affecting the median age of the college’s students is having a significant workforce continuing education program, Pfeiffer said. There’s been a decline in the area, too, by about a year. Ten years ago, the average age for workforce continuing education was 37. Now it’s 36.

Workforce continuing education includes short-term training programs and a lot of adults working to complete their high school diploma or high school equivalency.

The proximity of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base also affects the age of students at Wayne Community College.

“We have a representative in the base education building to assist those active duty individuals who want to take classes with their tuition assistance and registering for classes and helping dependents who have questions about the educational process,” Pfeiffer said.

How does the future look?

“Ages birth to 19, we’ve seen very slight decreases over the past 10 years,” Foucht said. “Ages 35 to 54, we’ve seen decreases. Ages 45 to 49 is where we’ve seen the most significant age decrease by any one age group. Go to 55 and older, we see population increases.

“Just looking at population demographic predictions, what we’re having is about a 7 percent decrease in the number of jobs in Wayne County in the past 10 years,” Foucht said. “One of the biggest things here is we’ve got an aging workforce, an aging population.”

SERVICES ON AGING

Paula Edwards, director of the Peggy Seegars Senior Center and Wayne County Services on Aging, said she doesn’t have the numbers and ages of people taking advantage of the programs and activities the agencies have offered for the past 10 years. Officials didn’t keep up with the numbers as the old senior center was small and could not accommodate very many people.

But when the new senior center opened in 2012, the number of people attending tripled, she estimates.

“We have a little over 1,000 active members of the senior center from June 2018 to May 1, ages 60 and older,” Edwards said. “It has grown.”

And she knows there are seniors that the center or Services on Aging hasn’t reached yet. Some people go to the senior center to use the services and participate in the programs, while others go to check on services or assistance.

“We will grow based on statistics we are seeing,” Edwards said. “North Carolina is ninth nationally in the number of people 65 and older. North Carolina has more than 1.5 million older adults. By the year 2025, one in five people in the state will be 65 or older. They say that in 20 years, our population of 65 and older will almost double to 2.5 million in the state, and Wayne County will have its share of them.”

Predictions are that by 2035, there will be about 79.2 million people in the nation 65 and older, Edwards said.

“If you think about who’s aging now, it’s baby boomers,” she said. “They’re telling us in the aging network that the ‘silver tsunami’ is upon us. In 2011, the first of the baby boomers reached retirement age. For the next 18 years, boomers will be turning 65 at a rate of 8,000 a day nationwide. We’re going to be servicing more seniors.”

Edwards said the highest percentage of the population at the senior center is the age group 65 to 69, representing 27 percent. The second largest group is 70 to 74, 20 percent, and the age group 80 to 84 is about 10 percent.

“The 65 to 75 age group is pretty strong here,” she said.

Edwards said statistics show that the number of people age 85 and older will be the fastest growing segment of the population beginning in 2030 when the oldest of the 2.4 million baby boomers nationwide near their 85th birthday.

“It’s a community effort to provide what we have,” she said. “We’re going to have to work as a community as our seniors grow. If you’ve never been a caregiver, you’re probably going to become a caregiver as your parents, siblings and spouse age. We are going to have to reach out to them. There’s going to be a need for services. We have to be prepared for that silver tsunami; it’s coming our way.”

But today’s seniors — and probably tomorrow’s seniors — don’t want to sit around waiting for life to end.

Edwards said people are still working in their 70s and 80s. Many who are not working “are very active, drive, volunteer, contribute to the community and society and do exceptionally well.”

Seniors want to stay healthy and active, she said.

And the senior center helps them do just that by addressing several issues, including socialization.

“At a conference I attended, a speaker said that a senior being isolated is like smoking 14 cigarettes a day,” Edwards said. “We also address issues healthwise by providing a nutritious meal during the week and providing fitness classes and a fitness room.

“We have health education programs. We also have evidence-based classes that give you information on how to take care of yourself if you’re dealing with health issues. And we also help our seniors have fun with classes and trips.

“Life should be enjoyable no matter what age you are.”

Edwards said it’s more cost effective for Services on Aging to provide a variety of services rather than place a person in a facility. Services such as personal care, transportation and others that Services on Aging offers save the government a lot of money.

The silver tsunami may mean that the senior center and Services on Aging might have to adjust services and programs for the younger seniors coming in and the older seniors moving on.

“The senior center is going to evolve how our seniors evolve,” Edwards said. “If we’re fortunate to live long enough, we will become seniors. We don’t think about that when we’re younger.”