Many of these counties suffered particularly hard in the great recession. The economic downturn hit at manufacturing and at the Individual Retirement Accounts of people who were getting close to retirement or who had already retired – older people who did not have time to wait for the stock market to recover. Those hits forced some of the residents in the counties back into the workplace, or into another job. Those wounds are deep and still fresh. A few examples: Sheboygan, WI Clermont, FL
Aging in America presents numerous challenges and some opportunities, you can see both those things in play in the Emptying Nest counties. These counties aren’t about retirees – or just about them anyway – but they are graying fairly rapidly. Located throughout the Midwest and scattered around Florida they are homes to large numbers of 55-and-over citizens. And their connection to an older vision of America often extends beyond their population.
The Emptying Nest counties that run through the Rust Belt are often what’s left of old factory towns, places where much of the industry left some time ago and the community left behind is in transition. And the counties often have a hard time attracting new industry and people to replace what’s gone. They are not densely populated places, but rather counties full of strings of small towns – often old aging downtowns surrounded by strings of chain restaurants and stores.
In Florida there are more than a few gated, 55-and-over communities with golf courses and community clubhouse amenities in the Emptying Nests, with golf-cart accessible shopping nearby. Regardless of where they are, however, (in the north or the south) the aging populations in these places tend to make them culturally conservative and generally averse to tax increases. And because older citizens tend to have higher voter participation rates, the graying parts of these counties can wield great influence in them.