McHenry County’s population has gotten bigger, older and more diverse in the 21st century, and local employers, schools and governments already have been challenged to adapt to the changing demographics.
Schools and local municipalities are being tasked with shifting curriculums and services that accommodate non-native English speakers. Employers also face the prospects of a brain-drained workforce as the aging Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement and takes its institutional memory with it.
The county’s demographic changes are in line with national trends, with longer lifespans, shifting cultural norms, increased immigration and the economic downturn as contributing factors.
“We have a nice, diverse population in the county,” said Jeffrey Poynter, director of the McHenry County Workforce Network Board. “We still have a strong, historical population, but bringing in other cultures has given us a different perspective on employment opportunities.”
The other cultures that have gravitated to the county include the nation’s fastest-growing ethnicity. More than 15,600 Latinos have moved to the county in the 21st century, a comparison of the 2000 and 2010 censuses shows.
The county overall has grown by more than 48,600 people, as the county’s majority race represented a lesser share of the population. In 2000, whites represented 89.6 of the population and declined to 83.7 percent in 2010.
Latinos had the single largest increase of any race and ethnicity in the county during the past two censuses. The demographic now represents 11.4 percent of the population, up from 7.4 percent in 2000.
Nearly 4,000 people from Asian descent also have settled in the county during the past two censuses. The rise in Latinos and Asians already has forced economic changes, Poynter said.
Poynter has found while meeting with various county employers and industries that the Asian demographic has motivated local job creators to add positions with a science technology and math background, while Latinos take more manufacturing jobs.
The change in workforce demand challenges educational institutions, such as McHenry County College, to modify training programs, Poynter said.
More of the county’s school districts also are incorporating dual language curricula that help non-English speakers and English-native students become bilingual, said Leslie Schermerhorn, McHenry County regional schools superintendent.
Districts with large Latino populations, such as Harvard District 50 and Woodstock District 200, already have used dual language programs to equip students with language tools to compete in a economy that will only become more globally connected in the future, Schermerhorn said.
The programs also exposes students to cultures other than their own, she said,
“It’s a positive for children; as they grow up, they need to realize we are all just people,” Schermerhorn said. “In the long run, it’s well worth it in order to have a humane society.”
Employers also have been faced with devoting scarce resources to training younger workers as more Baby Boomers approach the retirement age of 65. The Baby Boomers represented a historic newborn baby boom that spanned a generation from 1946 to 1964.
As they have aged, so has the county. Residents ages 65 and older represent 10 percent of the county’s population, totaling 31,320 people. At turn of the century, the census counted 20,913 residents older than 65.
The county’s median age in that time increased from 34 to 38 years old. The graying of the county’s workforce has caused concern for area employers, who fear that production may lag with younger, less experienced workers, Poynter said.
“When older workers leave the workforce, they are going to take the institutional knowledge with them,” Poynter said.
Despite the challenges, certain areas already have seen services adapt to the area’s changing demographics.
In Crystal Lake, two senior service organizations have expanded their facilities as a response to the city’s aging population, which includes more than 4,000 people older than 65.
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ decision to create a 100-unit apartment complex for retirement-age adults and Fair Oaks’ recent 50,000-square-foot expansion to its senior health care facility along Route 176 are signs that services are growing to meet demographic demands, said Michelle Rentzsch, Crystal Lake’s planning and economic director.
“For Crystal Lake, an aging population is only a benefit because of the market response,” she said.
Growing, aging and diversifying of McHenry County
Total population in 2000: 260,077
• White (excluding Latinos): 233,026 (89.6 percent)
• Latinos (of any race): 19,602 (7.5 percent)
• Asian: 3,782 (1.5 percent)
• Black: 1,523 (0.6 percent)
Median age in 2000: 34.2
• Population 65 and older: 20,913 (8 percent)
Total population in 2010: 308,760
• White (excluding Latinos): 258,584 (83.7 percent)
• Latinos (of any race): 35,249 (11.4 percent)
• Asian: 7,712 (2.5 percent)
• Black: 3,045 (1 percent)
Median age in 2010: 38
• Population 65 and older: 31,320 (10.1 percent)
Source: U.S. Census 2000 and 2010