ATLANTA - Georgia's long-held reputation as a draw for young professionals is on the line as those in their 20s and 30s appear to be looking elsewhere for opportunities.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the state's populations of 25- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 44-year-olds each declined by 2 percentage points over the past decade.
During the same period, the state added people 45 and older in nearly every category, with the largest increase being those 60 to 64.
The number of 25- to 34-year-olds decreased from 15.9 percent of the population in 2000 to 13.8 percent. For 35- to 44-year-olds, the number went down from 16.5 percent to 14.4 percent.
"We tend to be a younger state," said University of Georgia demographer Doug Bachtel. "That's the impact of the baby boom generation. This has huge implications for all sorts of stuff, from business, to government, education and the military. Age distribution hits everybody. It's the most important variable because more things flow from it."
The changes equal a slight increase in Georgia's median age, which is up from 33.4 in 2000 to 35.3 last year.
The small uptick challenges Georgia's reputation as a draw for young professionals, many of whom remain in the state after college for job opportunities, affordable living and the quality of life. Georgia State University urban policy expert Harvey Newman said Atlanta especially has a reputation as a place that is attractive for young people on the way up.
"We have so many students who finish an undergraduate program and I say go seek opportunities wherever you can, but so many of them want to stay in Atlanta," Newman said. "It's hard to find people who want to take jobs in other cities."
But Atlanta's unemployment rate has been stuck above the national average, which may have factored into the shift in the numbers. Newman was cautious not to read too much into the change.
"Will job opportunities for younger people expand locally?" he said. "We simply don't know what will happen as we climb out of the recession."
There are also fewer home-owners and more renters, which experts point to as a sign of the recent economic downturn. Newman also said Georgia was affected further because of its high poverty level.
"Georgia tends to be a poor state, and that significantly impacts homeownership," Newman said. "They're wondering where the next tank of gas is coming from, not where to buy a bungalow."