Clark County’s population continues to fall, reaching its lowest level since 1962.
But it is not alone.
A record number of U.S. counties — more than 1 in 3 — are now dying off, hit hard by an aging population and sluggish economies that are spurring young adults to seek jobs and build families elsewhere.
The 2012 census estimates released Thursday highlight the population shifts as the U.S. encounters its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression.
The census estimates show Clark County’s population dropped to 137,206, putting the area’s population totals at its lowest in 50 years when the county had 135,656 residents.
Commissioner John Detrick said the numbers are concerning.
“That’s an area we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on job growth, and now we need to work on retaining our mature citizens and we need to replace those we’re losing through death,” Detrick said.
Clark County’s population dropped 562 people, or 0.4 percent, from 2011 and 2012 and was among 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties that saw population losses.
Since 2000, Clark County’s population has dropped about 7 percent, losing more than 10,500 people, according to census data.
Between 2011 and 2012, Champaign County lost about 250 people, census estimates said, leaving it with 39,565. Montgomery County lost about 600 people during that same period, the report said.
Detrick, Commissioner Rick Lohnes and Clark County Community Improvement Corporation Vice President Horton Hobbs said the decades of decline in Clark County are largely due to manufacturing job losses.
All three said strides have been made as the area.
Clark County attracted 700 new jobs in 2012 and maintained unemployment rates below Ohio and national averages in recent months, according to a report by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Unemployment rates in both Clark and Champaign counties decreased more than 2 percentage points for the year, the report said.
But Detrick and others say the job losses in the manufacturing industry, particularly Navistar International, led to dramatic population declines, and the area has never fully recovered.
Employment levels at the local manufacturing facility dropped from 6,500 in the 1980s to currently just more than 850 workers.
Lohnes said county officials are teaming with the Dayton Development Coalition on a study to establish a strategic economic development plan.
He said efforts for the area to become one of six national test ranges for unmanned aircraft systems would also be a boon for the community.
“It’s about jobs,” Lohnes said.
Hobbs said reversing the population slide is a complex problem that requires a multi-pronged plan.
He cited efforts such as Greater Springfield Moving Forward, a group tasked with expanding and strengthening economic development by focusing on five core areas, including workforce development, student achievement, livability and quality of life initiatives.
National Trail Parks and Recreation plans to open an ice rink as part of the last phase of the park district’s 10-year, $17 million capital campaign that also included the Carleton Davidson Stadium and the Splash Zone Family Aquatic Center.
Hobbs said Clark County has seen business growth.
He said leaders have a strategy they hope will bring more positive results in three to five years. But he admits it could take much longer before population trends reverse.
“There’s no one silver bullet,” Hobbs said, “but the collective goal is to effect population growth. We need to stabilize and grow.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.