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Delaware Population Consortium approves 2022 projections, but questions about accuracy remain

Delaware’s Population Consortium approved the state’s 2022 population projections Thursday – projections that counties, municipalities and school districts are required to use for planning and budgeting purposes.

This year's projections — both for 2022 and for the coming decades — pose several challenges for city governments and the state as a whole.

UD’s Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research projects a dramatic shift in the ratio of working-age adults to seniors in Delaware over the next three decades.

Center Director Ed Ratledge says the number of new births appears on track to remain flat for the foreseeable future, while the population over the age of 65 is vastly outpacing both births and in-migration of working-age people.

“The population from 0 to19, which is where your new labor force is going to come from, is going to grow by 4,000 from 2020 to 2050," he said. "At the same time, the over-65 crowd grows by almost 90,000.”

Overall, UD researchers expect the state's population to begin declining by 2050, with only slow growth in the intervening decades. In-migration is the key driver of Delaware's population growth, but that migration is disproportionately concentrated in Sussex County and includes retirees.

But some at Thursday's Consortium meeting were skeptical about the accuracy of local-level population estimates from the 2021 American Community Survey.

Newark Acting Director of Planning and Development Renee Bensley questioned data suggesting Newark’s population has slightly declined since 2020.

“If you look at the specific census tracks, the ones that had the most severe drops were the ones with concentrations of student housing – and where we’ve been building denser student housing," she said. "Not only was that additional density not counted, but it suggested a decrease, which is not reflective of our reality on the ground.”

Bensley says Newark may conduct a supplemental census in 2023 to double-check the most recent population data, which she said may be necessary to ensure Newark receives its fair share of state resources.

“Our City Manager in particular is very concerned about the fact that since these are used to determine the distribution of street funding money, we could see a pretty severe percentage drop that isn’t reflective of an actual drop in our population," she said.

Consortium members previously identified apparent population declines in Sussex County municipalities like Georgetown as potential survey errors.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.