Northern Lehigh is home to 26,094 people of varying ages, incomes and opportunities. Understanding the diverse mix of people is a key component to identifying the needs of current and future residents and how those needs could be addressed through the multi-municipal comprehensive planning process.
The Demographic Analysis section describes who is living in Northern Lehigh and how many more people are projected to be living there by 2040. This data will inform the goals, policies and actions to be included in the multi-municipal comprehensive plan. The plan will be designed to manage growth to preserve the rural character of Northern Lehigh and help make decisions that best serve the communities.
Northern Lehigh is home to approximately 7% of Lehigh County’s population—a small percentage considering that the land size of Northern Lehigh makes up 38% of Lehigh County’s geography. With Northern Lehigh growing significantly faster than Lehigh County, the population is expected to increase by more than 10,000 people by 2040. Despite that rapid growth, its population is projected to be just 8% of the County’s population at that time. All municipalities are expected to grow, with Washington and Weisenberg Townships each growing by more than 50%, closely followed by Lowhill Township. Heidelberg and Lynn townships are each projected to grow by more than a third, while Slatington Borough is expected to grow by 10%. The population increase in the townships may be attributed to the increasing development pressures stemming from the Southern Lehigh area and major roadways, including Interstate 78 and Route 22 in Weisenberg Township, Route 100 in Lowhill and Heidelberg townships, and Route 309 in Heidelberg and Lynn townships.
Birth and Death Rate
Birth and death rates indicate what proportion of population increase is attributed to natural increase (parents giving birth to children), compared to in-migration. Northern Lehigh has an overall mean birth rate of 9.2 children per 1,000 people per year and a death rate of 5.7 people per 1,000 people per year. These ratios differ from the national rates of 18.5 births and 7.8 deaths per 1,000 people each year (based on 2016 data). This indicates that while growing families will account for some of the population growth, a higher than average amount of growth is attributable to in-migration.
This conclusion is especially true for certain municipalities, such as Lowhill Township, which has a birth rate lower than the death rate. Heidelberg Township has the same rate of births and deaths, indicating that growth in these townships will largely be due to in-migration.
Northern Lehigh has a diverse population, generally distributed among all age groups. The age groups of children and adults aged 25-44 each make up approximately one-fifth of the population. Adults ages 45-64 are the largest population group, making up over one-third of the population. Seniors currently make up only 16.5% of the population, although as Generation X ages (adults 45-64), those two age groups will become a larger portion of the population, increasing the need for healthcare and amenities. The proportion of Young Adults is significantly lower compared to the rest of the segments of the population, at only 7%. This may suggest that a large number of students move away from home to attend college.
Slightly more than one-third (36.1%) of Northern Lehigh residents over the age of 25 have a higher education degree (associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate or professional degree), which is lower than the rate of Lehigh County (39.5%). A larger proportion of the population indicated that a high school diploma is their highest educational attainment at 38.8%, compared to 32.7% in Lehigh County. Only 8.3% of adults listed not completing any formal education. This data indicates a diverse educational attainment of people living in Northern Lehigh, which likely translates to diverse incomes and housing attainment ability.
Student Food Subsidy 2018-2019
Understanding childhood and household needs is an important factor in determining solutions for a thriving community. In order to understand the status of school-aged children at-risk, data was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to examine the number of students eligible for lunch subsidies. Northern Lehigh contains two school districts: The Northern Lehigh School District (Slatington and Walnutport boroughs, Washington Township) and the Northwestern Lehigh School District (Heidelberg, Lowhill, Lynn, and Weisenberg Townships). It is important to note that the Northern Lehigh School District data could not be separated by municipality, and thus includes Walnutport Borough students.
In the Northern Lehigh School District, 39.6% of students qualify for free lunch, compared to 15.8% of Northwestern Lehigh School District who are eligible for free lunch. The reduced lunch numbers are much lower in both districts, with 5.7% qualifying in Northern Lehigh and 2.3% eligible in Northwestern Lehigh.
Labor Force and Unemployment
The U.S. Census Bureau classifies a labor force as all people over the age of 16 that have a job or are actively looking for a job. The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population in the labor force, and the unemployment rate shows the percentage of the labor force that is not employed and seeking a job.
As measured for comparison between 2013 and 2017, all Northern Lehigh communities have a labor participation rate that is at least two-thirds of the population over 16 years old, but their unemployment rates vary, ranging from a low of 2.8% in Heidelberg Township to a high of 8.7% in Slatington Borough. Overall, Northern Lehigh’s labor force participation rate of 67.8% is slightly more than that of Lehigh County, and it’s an unemployment rate of 6.1% is slightly under that of Lehigh County.
Income and Poverty
The Northern Lehigh overall median household income of $64,884 is slightly above the $60,116 median household income of Lehigh County. Median household incomes in Northern Lehigh municipalities vary significantly, ranging from $50,721 in Slatington Borough to $94,190 in Weisenberg Township.
The difference between household and family incomes is caused by the makeup of the household structure. Family households consist of two or more people with incomes to support multiple people. Non-family households include single-person households and are likely to contain individuals that are very young or elderly, often with lower incomes than families. A community with a wide disparity between household and family income is likely to have a high proportion of non-family households. Lynn Township and Slatington Borough have household-to-family income disparities of greater than $20,000. However, both median household and median family incomes for Lynn Township are well above poverty level, while the median household income in Slatington Borough is just above the livable wage for a single adult with one child ($48,160 based on the MIT Living Wage Calculations for Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton). This may indicate a need to further explore equity issues such as housing attainability and quality of life for various demographics in Slatington Borough.
Northern Lehigh has an overall poverty rate of 7.2%, which is significantly lower than the Lehigh County rate of 13.3%. However, Slatington Borough, at 14.7%, has a higher poverty rate than the County, and Washington Township, at 10.2%, has a relatively high poverty rate, compared to other Northern Lehigh communities.
Race and Ethnicity
The U.S. Census Bureau categorizes race as self-identification with one or more social groups. Census respondents can select a single race they identify with (White, Black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, other) or they can select that they identify with two or more races. Ethnicity is a separate category from race and identifies whether or not a person is of Hispanic or Latino origin. The Census Bureau has two categories for ethnicity—Hispanic or Latino and Non-Hispanic or Latino. Therefore, a Census survey respondent can identify their race (for example, White) and also identify whether or not they are of Hispanic or Latino origin.
The residents of Northern Lehigh predominantly identify as White racially, with extremely small percentages of racial minority populations in any given municipality. This differs significantly from the racial demographics of Lehigh County. However, several Northern Lehigh communities are home to a significant proportion of Hispanic or Latino residents.
Hispanic and Latino populations make up the nation’s largest minority, and that trend toward diversity is seen in the Lehigh Valley, as well. While the percentages of Hispanics or Latinos in Northern Lehigh communities are far below the rate for Lehigh County, these rates have increased since 2010. Northern Lehigh overall has experienced an increase from 2% in 2010 to 3.5% now in the proportion of Hispanics or Latinos. The proportion of White residents has increased in Heidelberg, Lowhill and Weisenberg townships, and decreased in Lynn and Washington townships and Slatington Borough. These trends in shifting demographics may point to equity issues where the housing, economic, transportation or educational conditions of certain communities are not attainable for historically disadvantaged populations.
Equity refers to whether or not all people in various geographies have access to housing, education, employment and transportation resources that are essential for a high quality of life. An equitable community is more culturally vibrant and economically successful because there are more hands and brains contributing to the betterment of the area.
The LVPC completed an Equity Analysis in 2018 to identify what areas of the Lehigh Valley have high or low access to opportunity relative to the rest of the region. The analysis looked at 14 different data points related to housing, transportation, economics and job access, and education. Based on the scoring of these data points, each census tract is given a score from very low to very high access. In the original 2018 analysis, the Northern Lehigh communities were found to have at least moderate access to opportunity, with the townships having high or very high access, compared to the Lehigh Valley as a whole.
The 2018 analysis was re-calculated based exclusively on the Northern Lehigh geography to measure how opportunity compares with Northern Lehigh communities. Based on these results, it was found that opportunity is not evenly distributed throughout the area. Slatington Borough was found to have low overall access to opportunity relative to the rest of Northern Lehigh. The townships had at least moderate access, with Lowhill Township rating high access and Weisenberg Township rating very high access. The low score in Slatington Borough was due to low rates of home ownership, high rates of vacancy and households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing, high unemployment and poverty rates, low educational attainment and low preschool enrollment. Heidelberg Township was also found to have high rates of vacancy and cost-burdened households, as well as low vehicular access. Weisenberg Township was found to have the highest level of access to opportunity in every category, compared to the rest of the Northern Lehigh communities.
Northern Lehigh is generally well-connected by internet access, with a high proportion of the population having broadband connectivity. About 20% of people do not have any access to internet, which typically is the case in more rural townships, but may also be true for Slatington Borough. Continuing to strengthen internet access will be important for the area to enable residents to compete in an increasingly global economy.
Northern Lehigh is growing at a faster rate than Lehigh County as a whole, with demographic data showing a wide range of incomes and educational attainment among the population. With a birth rate larger than the death rate, the future growth of Northern Lehigh communities is partially attributed to local families having children in addition to in-migration. The projected increase of 10,368 people by the year 2040 will need to be provided for with attainable housing and job opportunities within reasonable commutes, both within and outside of the Northern Lehigh area.
Understanding who lives in Northern Lehigh is critical for the multi-municipal comprehensive plan in developing goals, policies and actions for the betterment of all residents in the area. Northern Lehigh is not as diverse in terms of race and ethnicity as Lehigh County as a whole. Compared to 2010, Northern Lehigh is slightly more racially diverse now, with a 0.6% decrease in the White population, while its small Hispanic or Latino population over the same time period increased from 2% to 3.5% of the total population. It is not clear how this may be influenced by in-migration over the next two decades.
Providing equitable access to housing, transportation, education and jobs is vital to a more productive and sustainable region. While many communities of Northern Lehigh exhibit high levels of access to opportunity, Slatington Borough and certain aspects of the townships require greater investment to increase access to opportunities for all residents.
Identifying areas of lower access to opportunity alone is not enough to tell the whole story of Northern Lehigh, or to determine what investments are needed. However, when compared to the Housing, Economic and Land analyses to follow, the demographic data and analyses will enable a thoughtful pathway towards managing Northern Lehigh’s future growth in a way that will enable it to preserve its agricultural character and identity.