Editorial: Albert Lea is not a retirement community

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013

At a meeting with state legislators about jobs last month at Albert Lea City Hall, a resident stood up and said our fair city was becoming a retirement community.

We grow weary of hearing that distorted statement at local gatherings. It implies that young people just move away and don’t want to live here.

Sure, Albert Lea has a multitude of baby boomers who are hitting retirement age and in a decade will test the resources of local senior housing services. But that is true all across America.

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No matter how anyone looks at the numbers, there will be more people in the Census Bureau category for ages 45 to 64 because the baby boomers right now are ages 67 to 49. The percentages are on their side when comparing 2010 to 2000.

What the negative nellies fail to notice is the increasing number of young families moving to and residing in Albert Lea. These families believe our city is a good and safe place to raise children.

School enrollment is one indicator. In the Albert Lea School District this fall, there are 922 students in grades 9-12. There are 1,023 in grades K-3, and that doesn’t include the children at St. Theodore Catholic School who most likely will join their peers in the public school after sixth grade.

School officials commonly refer to the growing elementary population as part of their discussions about classroom sizes. In fact, Lakeview Elementary School has four kindergarten teachers, but it used to typically have three. Why? To prevent large class sizes.

The 2010 census also indicated the population of children under 5 years of age rose by 5.2 percent compared to 2000. Comparing the same years, it rose by less than 1 percent for children under 10 — but it did rise.

To be sure, it’s not a boom, and no one knows if it will last, but there is a rising population among the youngest Albert Leans.

In the American Midwest, where many small towns are fading away and regional cities like Albert Lea are declining, it’s good to see our city’s overall population stay around the same level of about 18,000. Albert Lea only lost 340 people from 2000 to 2010. The 2011 population estimate actually added 30 people.

It takes a good deal of work out here on the wind-swept prairie away from a metro area to keep the losses from being greater. Good jobs, housing, schools, public safety, recreation, shopping options, friendly neighbors and other quality-of-life factors matter.

It also means we must do better going into the next decade to fight losses. The State Demographic Center forecasts the slight decline to continue, but we believe our city has the means to make the decline become an incline.

So let’s stow away that “retirement community” comment. It only makes the speaker sound like he or she has given up on the city and lacks interaction with children.