ZANESVILLE — When the 2020 federal census numbers came out this month, it was no surprise to Zanesville Mayor Don Mason that the city lost more than 700 people.
Based on that number, “I think you can safely say we’ve lost 250 families,” he said.
Last year, the once-a-decade census counted every individual in the United States. This was an unprecedented census for a number of reasons, coinciding with the pandemic and leading to a two-month break in door-to-door census.
Most counties in Ohio have experienced population declines. The state’s total population is now nearly 11.8 million, up 2.3% from 2010.
Statewide census data: Two-thirds of Ohio counties are losing population; Columbus passes 900,000 residents
Although a population loss is not an unusual trend in southeastern Ohio communities. Perry County and Morgan County both failed this year’s census, as did their most populous cities.
Zanesville, the largest city among the three counties, is down 2.8%. The census counted 24,765 people living in the city in 2020.
Perry County’s population count has also fallen short this year, with 650 fewer people counted in last year’s census than in 2010.
Morgan County has lost just over 8% of its total population from what used to be over 15,000. Now it’s down to 13,802.
Unlike its two neighbors, Muskingum County’s population has remained about the same. It is generally unchanged at 86,410 despite a marginal increase.
McConnelsville has lost over 100 residents over the past decade. Mayor John Finley nor Morgan County Commissioners could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The Perry County seat village of New Lexington saw a loss of nearly 300 residents, now standing at 4,435.
Mayor Trent Thompson said he believes the numbers were skewed. “With the pandemic, I don’t think the door-to-door effort would have been successful like it would have been with the other things going on,” he said.
There were no voters to personally approach him about census questions, he said. Mason also acknowledged that there will always be arguments that not everyone has been counted. According to the Ohio Department of Development, 99.9 percent of Ohio residents were counted in last year’s census.
Zanesville population down despite ‘severe’ housing shortage
Mason highlighted housing as a pressing issue during his State of the City address earlier this year.
“This is the most critical issue not only for Zanesville’s growth, but also for the long-term stability of Zanesville,” Mason told The Times Recorder this week, calling the problem a “serious housing shortage.”
It’s housing of all types — rental housing, low-income housing, market housing. He said one solution the city is counting on is money from the federal housing budget, though housing is part of City Hall’s weekly business.
So if Zanesville is so full, what is causing the population decline? It’s a visible phenomenon for Mason, who was previously mayor in the 1980s.
“We drive, you look at empty lots where houses used to exist, you’ll see the evidence is in front of you, whether you recognize it or not,” Mason said.
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“It confirms what we suspected all along,” Mason said.