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Ohio on verge of population loss

If Ohio wants to increase its tax base and make up for the political clout it lost in the latest reapportionment of congressional seats, new Census data show the state will need to make a dramatic turnaround.

In fact, Ohio needs something to change if it isn’t going to join Michigan as another shrinking state.

Ohio’s anemic population growth has continued to slow in the last two years, a Dayton Daily News analysis of census estimates has found. The state’s population grew by an estimated 3,218 people for the year ending July 1, the new estimates show, a microscopic 0.03 percent. That was the fourth-smallest percent gain in the country for the 12-month period.

The Census Bureau calculates population estimates for every 12-month period ending July 1, based on birth, death and migration data.

For the 12-year period since the 2000 Census, Ohio had the third-smallest share of population growth among all 50 states. It gained 1.6 percent, or 180,682 people. Only Rhode Island, which grew by 24 people over the 12 years (0.0 percent growth), and Michigan, which lost more than 69,000 people (-0.7 percent), faired worse.

That not only cost Ohio two seats in the new 113th Congress that will convene Jan. 3, it also impacts the state economy, experts say.

The trend is a concern for Ohio and means state policy makers must “double down on our efforts to make Ohio job-friendly again,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich.

“For many years now, people have left the state in search of better fortunes elsewhere,” Nichols said. “But over the last two years, things have definitely improved.”

While the state lost 400,000 jobs from 2006 through 2010, it has gained more than 130,000 in the last two years, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that hasn’t helped population growth. Last year’s increase was less than half of the 7,286 people it gained only two years ago – and is less than one eighth of the almost 27,000 population growth in 2002-03. The trend line is clearly heading toward negative territory.

In addition, the Census data show that Ohio continued to lose residents as people move elsewhere in the nation. While the state gained more than 33,000 people from international migration during the last two years, the data show, it lost 84,528 people who moved to other states.

The total migration loss of more than 51,000 people was counteracted by the state having about 60,000 more births than deaths from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011.

“Without question,” Nichols said, “until Ohio has a sustained period of economic growth and job creation, this will remain a concern.”

Ohio’s population growth is so weak that it is likely inevitable that the state will soon see population loss for the first time in its history, said Mark Salling, research associate with the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“If the economy were to pick up, especially in Ohio, we might avert this eventual loss of population,” Salling said. “But without being able to foresee any major changes in the economy, the loss has got to happen soon. But then again, five years ago I was saying it would happen any year, and it still hasn’t happened.”

Ohio is in competition with the rest of the country to attract and retain residents, and it has struggled to attract both migrants from other states and foreign-born migrants. Migrants typically are younger and help increase birth rates, because they are usually in the family-forming years.

Population growth results from economic growth, because jobs opportunities attract new people to a state, Salling said. But population growth also stimulates a state’s economy, because it increases the number of young and innovative residents. Population growth also means there are more consumers, which increases demand for goods and services.

Population loss matters less if a state still has a highly educated and skilled population, and high-paying jobs abound, Salling said. But Ohio had the 12th lowest median household income in 2011, according to Census data.

There are also political consequences of slow population growth.

House seats are apportioned based on population, so a slower-than-average rate of population growth would cost Ohio more seats in the House of Representatives and also electoral votes, said Justin Buchler, associate professor of political science with Case Western Reserve University.

And slower growth will likely cost the state some federal dollars.

“In a more direct sense, federal money is frequently allocated based on population, so fewer people means less money,” Buchler said.

Part of the problem, when it comes to reapportionment and other federal distributions, is that so many other states have grown so much faster than the Buckeye State.

While Ohio gained a bit over 180,000 people over the last 12 years, for example, Texas gained more than 5.1 million, California gained 4.1 million and Florida gained 3.3 million.

And while Ohio’s percent growth was less than 2 percent, Nevada continued to expand by almost 37 percent. Utah and Arizona grew by 27 percent.

To make matters worse all of Ohio’s neighbors did better — except for Michigan, which lost population. Kentucky, for example, had more than five times Ohio’s percent growth. The bluegrass state grew by more than 8 percent during the 12 years, gaining more than 330,000 people. Indiana grew almost as fast: it gained 445,468 residents or 7.3 percent. Pennsylvania grew by 3.9 percent and West Virginia by 2.7 percent.

The economic downturn stunted migration from states like Ohio to the Sun Belt states, which bore the brunt of the recession and problems in the housing market, said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution.

But Frey said thawing labor and housing markets in those states means people again are packing up and heading south and west.

Continued improvements in the economy and housing market would likely result in increased migration flows. Domestic and international migration remain the keys to growth, because birth rates are falling and deaths have increased, Frey said.

Urban revitalization also could help reverse Ohio gain more residents, because cities are the magnets that attract young and educated workers, said Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus, and a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution.

“Revitalization of our cities is really an important piece of regrowing the economy and attracting people back to Ohio,” she said. “Cities are the focal points of our regions, and the demographics show that is where people want to live.”

But the bottom line is people are going to live where they can find good jobs, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for JobsOhio, the state’s nonprofit economic development agency.

“The companies with those good jobs are going to remain or locate in the states that provide the most positive business environment,” Jones said in an email. “JobsOhio works closely with the governor and state agencies to continually identify ways to make Ohio friendlier for job creation … but we can’t let our foot off the gas.”


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