Kansans are aging, moving to urban centers and becoming less white.
Those broad findings from a detailed report about the state’s next five decades by the Kansas Health Foundation and Kansas Health Institute shouldn’t surprise us. They should, however, act as a reminder that as the state continues to grow and these trends continue, there is much work to be done to ensure the greatest chance at economic and social success for all Kansans.
Growing challenges are highlighted in the report, which focuses on how the state is impacted by healthy lifestyles and how individuals, government and health organizations are part of solutions.
While Kansas is projected to grow by 25.1 percent overall by 2066, the growth rate of residents age 65 and older is projected to rise by almost 70 percent. That creates a continuing shift in focus for health-care providers, who will see more cases of later-in-life health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
An older population, much of which is rural, helps the shift in Kansans from smaller cities and towns to urban areas such as Wichita, Kansas City, Lawrence and Manhattan. Projections in population shifts are some of the most glaring in the study.
The Lawrence area is projected to grow by 126 percent by 2066. Manhattan and Junction City combined should almost double in size, Kansas City will grow by 45 percent and the Wichita area is projected to grow by 28.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the report projects a 32-percent decline in eastern Kansas’ rural counties during that time and a 20-percent decline in western Kansas’ rural counties. From 2000 to 2016, 82 of 105 counties lost population, a continuing challenge to small communities needing to keep up with the best educators, health-care professionals and other leaders.
The most striking component of the study is the continuing growth in diversity within Kansas’ borders. Non-Hispanic whites continue to make up just more than three-quarters of the population, but that percentage was 84.1 in 2000. Whites in Kansas decreased by 0.3 percent in that period.
All population growth in Kansas from 2000 to 2016 was among minorities — 52.5 percent. That’s more than the national average (44.8).
Some will see those figures as drastic change in Kansas. It’s change, yes, but not drastic — a sign similar to the rest of the nation. What we should recognize is that it’s here to stay and there are challenges that come with it — challenges that can be overcome given acknowledgment and preparation.
The study notes that healthy living is contingent on many behaviors, some of which are universal — healthy eating, physical activity, and a decision not to use tobacco. But other risk factors — poverty, education — weigh heavily. In today’s Kansas, minority populations experience these significant hurdles at higher rates than whites.
We as Kansans need to get ahead of these problems. Local and state officials must recognize the part they play.
School districts bear the biggest challenges. A better education, whether it be completion of high school or beyond, offers more of an opportunity for success in the workforce and less chance of poverty.
Districts already report higher numbers of students who speak little or no English. English as a Second Language instructors will be in higher demand statewide. Schools are also a first responder in combating hunger among its students who come from low-income households.
We are better as a community and state when we look past skin color and ethnicity, but we can’t ignore challenges that Kansas will face with its changing demographics.
The Kansas Health Foundation has provided a view of the 50-year finish line. It’s up to Kansans to decide how we want to get there.
Editorial by the Wichita Eagle