Compared to the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania, and Lycoming County in particular, is aging, thus reducing the number of available workers and placing more reliance on the income of older residents to drive the local economy.
That is according to study completed recently by Lycoming College economics student Drew Boyles and college Institute of Management Studies Director Mehrdad Madresehee.
Boyles and Madresehee have teamed up to perform an economic study that provides a snapshot of the county's economy just as the gas industry was ramping up. Much of the study relies on the most recently available data from 2008 and 2009.
Lycoming College economics student Drew Boyles, left, and college Institute of Management Studies Director Mehrdad Madresehee examine the results of a study highlighting Lycoming County’s economy just prior to the ramping up of the natural gas industry.
The study also focused on education, income, cost of living, industry shifts, economic strengths and weaknesses and the comparative advantages and disadvantages of county manufacturing sub-sectors.
According to Boyles, the comparative age of a given area is important.
"If we're aging, we're going to become more reliant on Social Security and Medicare versus people who are actively working or who are entering the workforce," Boyles said.
Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the nation, yet Lycoming County is slightly older than the state average, Boyles said.
Slightly more than 16 percent of county residents are over the age of 65, while slightly more than 21 percent are under the age of 18. The national average for those two age demographics is 12.6 percent and 24.6 percent, respectively.
"The data suggests that as a county, we are growing older," Boyles said. "The importance of that is that an aging population relies more on the government."
"We're relying more and more on the elderly to provide our per capita income," he said.
"The reliance on older people's money here is getting substantial," Madresehee said.
Data on education shows that county residents are less likely to have a college degree compared to the state and nation. Statistics show that 12.1 percent of county residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree, compare to almost 17 percent for the state and 17.4 percent for the nation.
Those statistics show there is a possibility the county may be experiencing what some have dubbed a "brain drain," Boyles said. People either move away after they graduate from local colleges, or, if they attend school outside the area, do not come back.
"The important thing is not that it has happened, but that we need to do things to make sure it doesn't happen," Boyles said. "An educated population is valuable for a lot of logical reasons. When you have an more educated population you have a more productive workforce. That means the jobs you have are jobs that attract those kinds of people. They are higher paying."
Because an area's per capita income can be skewed by an inordinate amount of wealthy or extremely poor people, a more useful statistic is the median household income, Madresehee said.
In 2009, the county's median income was $42,000, which is $7,000 less than the state and $10,000 less than the nation.
"The important thing to consider at the same time is cost of living," he said. "It doesn't mean we're poor. It may mean it is cheaper to live here than in other places."
Statistics show, based on the cost of groceries, housing, transportation and health care, that it costs 9 percent more to live in Lycoming County than in Pittsburgh, but costs 25 percent less to live in the county than in Philadelphia, Boyles said.
A study of local industry shows that the county has a wide range of employers.
Health care is one of the area's largest employers. It accounts for more than 13 percent of those working and continues to grow. Retail is right behind health care at more than 12 percent of the workforce.
More than 15 percent of the workforce is involved in manufacturing. While that is a far cry from the more than 33 percent it was at its peak, it still is more than the current state average of 9 percent.
In spite of that, there has been a pronounced shift locally from a production to service economy, according to the study.
Service industries account for 68 percent of employment while production accounts for 23 percent.
Government accounts more than 14 percent of employment, agriculture less than 2 percent.
An analysis of industries that remain in the county showed that the county has an advantage in food manufacturing, plastics and rubber manufacturing and wood manufacturing than the state and nation.
Primary metals manufacturing is on the decline locally, according to the study.
According to Madresehee, the purpose of the study was to take large amounts of data and "make it as understandable and interesting to people who are not economists or do not have time to do all this work."
"We have identified industries that are strong here and industries that are important here but are losing their competitive edge, such as some of the old manufacturing," Madresehee said. "Stakeholders in the county should understand what areas are growing and what areas are past their prime."
Boyles said working with Madresehee provided him with an opportunity to put concepts and theories learned in the classroom to practical use.