The Greater Ohio Policy Center conducted a study that shows Ohio is aging, losing workers and, in fact, losing population in general. Over the past two decades, the state’s population has increased by 3%, but this increase is largely due to the growth of Columbus. If you take the state capital out of the numbers, the rest of the state has lost its population by about 1%.
Additionally, the state’s population has grown much more slowly than in many other parts of the country, resulting in the loss of a congressional district this year in Ohio. (The 13th Congressional District currently occupied by U.S. Representative Tim Ryan will be split and merged into the southern 6th Congressional District and the northern 14th Congressional District starting in January.)
The Greater Ohio Policy Center report states, “Much of Ohio functions as a legacy state rather than a rapidly growing place. As a result, state policymakers need to think differently about the needs and challenges of the Columbus area compared to other places in Ohio.
It doesn’t sound like the kind of state we hear portrayed in economic development announcements — at least one of which will be within easy commuting distance of Columbus.
Researchers lament the state of the population in places like Akron, Toledo or Dayton – “legacy towns”.
“Today, Ohio’s legacy towns are no longer experiencing precipitous population decline, but may still be experiencing only marginal population change, whether slow decline, slight growth or stability”, according to the authors of the report. “These dynamics go hand in hand with an aging population and declining economic vitality.”
Last week, Chartered Financial Analyst David Valentiner, director of interest rate management for First National Bank, spoke about the challenges posed by population decline, particularly when it comes to maintaining a strong workforce.
Valentiner spoke at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Annual Economic Forecast Breakfast.
Labor issues could become a crisis. Of course, this is not unique to Ohio.
There are 153 million workers now, he said. In comparison, they were 152.5 million in February 2019.
He admits that the economy has seen some declines, “but in reality the economy has been growing for two years; the workforce didn’t,” Valentiner said. “That’s the situation we find ourselves in right now.”
One of the causes is that the generation of baby boomers – workers who have traditionally stayed in the labor market longer than other generations – are retiring at an unprecedented rate.
In 2019, 1.5 million baby boomers retired. The last two years they have retired at double that rate.
Valentiner said America has lost more than 3 million of the most experienced workers who normally wouldn’t have left the workforce.
Family dynamics and birth rates also play a role in shrinking population and, therefore, the labor force. People are waiting longer to get married and have children. Birth rates in the developed world are falling below the 2.1 children per family needed to maintain a stable population, excluding immigration, Valentiner said.
The insight and statistics shared by Valentiner present a challenge that Ohio must strive to overcome in order to sustain and attract new business.
Going back to the Greater Ohio Policy Center study, let’s forget about “old towns” for a moment. If that kind of slowness or decline is felt in more urban areas of Ohio, the outlook for rural Ohio — especially Appalachian counties — is even worse.
“This region (of Appalachia), which has never been densely populated, is grappling with many of the same challenges that Ohio’s legacy cities face in addition to the effects of a resource extraction economy” , the researchers wrote. “Although Appalachia is not a specific focus of this report, several of the proposed solutions for Ohio’s legacy cities have the potential to help rural Appalachian cities and towns as well.”
Maybe. But it will take more than an emulation of what might work in the rest of the state to bring real change here. The people we elected to represent us in Columbus surely understand that. And, if they do, they urgently need to think about ways to correct this negative trend.