Growing Older, but in a vastly different way

Villagers dance to the music of “Rocky and the Rollers” in Lake Sumter Landing on Tuesday.

Michael Johnson, Daily Sun

For the fifth consecutive year, The Villages claimed the distinction as the oldest community in the country.

The median age in The Villages metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Sumter County but not The Villages in Lake or Marion counties, also increased at a greater clip from 2000 to 2016 than anywhere else in country.

One other noticeable trend emerged from the data the Census Bureau publicly released this morning, said Stefan Rayer, Ph.D., population program director at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

“The age gap between Sumter and other counties in Florida has increased,” he said.

The median age increased not only in Sumter for the year ended July 1, but also in Lake and Marion counties, the state and the country, according to the Census data.

Sumter averaged 67.1 years; Lake, 46.9; Marion, 48.7; Florida, 42.1; and the U.S., 37.9.

“It’s primarily the baby boomers aging,” Rayer said about the increase in age at all levels. “If you look at the size of the different generations, the baby boomer is a very large generation with many turning 65. So, that median age will go up over time.

But don’t equate age with vitality when talking about residents in The Villages, suggested Connie Lumpkin, of the Village of Hadley.

Every day, the president of The Villages Baby Boomers resident lifestyle club witnesses a population that defies the typical senior stereotype of older persons content with a sedate life.

“I don’t think the average (U.S.) baby boomer lives in The Villages,” she said. “Because of the lifestyle in The Villages, baby boomers tend to be more active here.”

That statement certainly applies to Lumpkin, who turned 68 on Feb. 28 and teaches three Zumba classes each week, while currently teaching Zumba and arts and crafts classes for grandchildren at Camp Villages, in addition to her volunteer work at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lake and Sumter Counties.

“The baby boomers in the circles I travel love life and love retirement, because they’ve all worked hard and saved for their retirement,” she said. “Now they’re enjoying the benefits of their retirement. Because of all the activities in The Villages like softball, pickleball, swimming, I think it makes you healthier. We certainly enjoy life more, laugh more, which all contributes to being the happiest and the healthiest.”

Although unscientific in nature, Lumpkin applies her experiences in The Villages to observations she and her husband, Harry, make during class reunions up North.

“We come back with stories about how our best friends don’t do anything in retirement,” she said. “By and large, they’re not as active as residents in The Villages. At least that’s what I have found.”

JUST NORMAL GROWTH

The latest Sumter health rankings also suggest an element of longevity to this aging trend, Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold suggested.

In 2016, the county and the MSA ranked as the 15th healthiest county in Florida, up from 30th just three years earlier, according to data the Florida Department of Health released in April.

“That’s tied to longevity,” Arnold said.

Sumter and the MSA also reap financial benefits with age in The Villages as a factor of overall population growth.

For the past several years, The Villages ranked as the fastest-growing MSA in the nation, according to Census data.

That population growth, almost solely in The Villages, produces county and municipal revenue in the form of property, sales and gasoline taxes.

Because of that revenue growth, Arnold just proposed that the Sumter County Commission adopt a 2017-18 property tax rate below the rolled back rate.

“This will be the 13th consecutive year the county has been at or below the rolled back rate, and I’m very pleased to propose to the board a budget that has a millage rate slightly under the rolled back rate,” he said. “That’s a property tax decrease under the definition of state law.”

While cutting back on taxes, the commission during this time actually increased services, Arnold said.

“We’ve been able to increase the level of services provided not just for The Villages residents, but all residents and customers within Sumter County,” he said.

This trend toward an older population also has not posed a burden on county services, Arnold said.

“We certainly have not seen any dramatic increase in service demands for an older population,” he said. “For us, the continued growth of fire operations, law enforcement and ambulance service are following the normal trend for general population growth.”

TREND TO CONTINUE

Both sexes aged in Sumter and the MSA, according to the new Census data.

The median age for both sexes in this area was 67.1 in 2016, up from 66.6 in 2015 and 63.8 in 2011.

That compares with a median age of 49.2 in 2000, according to Sumter’s official Census count.

Sumter and the MSA’s median age for males in 2016 was 66.7, up from 62.8 in 2011.

The median age in 2016 for females in Sumter and the MSA was 67.4, up from 64.4 in 2011.

In Lake, the median age of 46.9 in 2016 increased from 45.9 in 2011, Census data showed.

In Marion, the median age of 48.7 in 2016 increased from 47.7 in 2011, according to the data.

Florida’s median age of 42.1 in 2016 increased from 41 in 2011.

In comparison, the U.S. median age of 37.9 in 2016 increased from 37.3.

No question Sumter’s ranking jumped off the page, Rayer said.

“Those are pretty big increases,” he said. “It’s really because of the growth of the 65 and older age bracket. That’s out so much from other counties in Florida and nationally. It’s the continuation of a trend that’s been going on quite a few years, but is becoming accentuated as the baby boomers continue to retire. So you would expect that trend to continue in years to come.”

David Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 9066, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.