Demographers say the decreases are likely due to both migration and a decrease in the state’s birth rate. Either way, they say, the trend spells bad news for the state and its economy.
“The only way the state has been maintaining its population, or any kind of even small growth, is through more births than deaths,” said Mark Salling, a research fellow at Cleveland State University’s Levine Urban College. “With less natural increase to support the population numbers, the state’s population will probably start to decline pretty soon.
“That hasn’t happened yet, but it’ll happen, unless there’s an economic turnaround of real significance that will surprise all of us.”
The loss of families with young people has far-reaching consequences to the state’s financial health, Salling said. Businesses will have less buying power, the state will have a smaller workforce, and state and local governments will face shrinking tax bases in property values and taxable income.
“Families are the ones that make the most money,” Salling said. “They often have two incomes. And when they are a little more mature in the later stages of family formation, that’s when people are at their most productive and highest salary levels.
“So there’s a drain of money out of the state. When people leave the state, they take their money and earning potential with them.”
Robert Premus, professor of economics at Wright State University, said the state and region are experiencing a “brain drain.”
“We train them in our colleges and universities, and they’re finding jobs elsewhere, or they’re looking for jobs elsewhere, thinking their prospects are better,” Premus said.
The net loss in youth in the work force is a problem, Premus said, because young people usually are better educated and trained.
“They are very valuable for building our companies and the strength of our economy,” Premus said. “It’s something that has somewhat bleak implications, if we can’t turn this around. Our population is getting older and less educated when we have this kind of a pattern.”
The changes in youth population also are forcing adjustments to local governments and school districts — and not just for communities that are losing kids. Cities like Dayton and Cincinnati are coping with vacant homes and plunging school enrollments, while growing suburban jurisdictions like Springboro and Monroe are dealing with the negative side of growth.
Springboro has raised fees, closed schools and cut staff as voters have rejected repeated requests for new tax levies. Monroe, which had the biggest percentage gain of young people of any city in the eight-county Miami Valley region, was in fiscal emergency from 2005 to 2008.
The trend in youth population — flat at best in the region — has implications beyond what local schools and municipalities are dealing with. Colleges and universities have increased their visibility across the United States and the globe, in part because there aren’t enough local applicants from which to draw students.
“We anticipate this decline is only the beginning,” said Sundar Kumarasamy, vice president of enrollment management for the University of Dayton.
Losses in urban counties
Ohio’s youth decline was most severe in the large urban counties. Of the six Ohio counties with more than 100,000 population, five lost almost 127,000 young people. Cuyahoga County — the state’s largest, but fastest-shrinking county — saw a decrease of almost 58,000 youth, or one sixth of those under age 18.
Only Franklin County, which almost is entirely made up of the city of Columbus, saw an increase during the decade. Franklin County gained 10,221 young people from April 1, 2000, to April 1, 2010, when the official population counts were taken.
Southwestern Ohio as a whole also saw a significant drop. The 12-county region, which includes Dayton and Cincinnati, lost 28,448 people under 18 during the decade, a decrease of 4.2 percent. Only three suburban counties — Warren, Butler and Clermont counties — gained young people, but their gain of close to 22,000 couldn’t make up for the losses, especially in the metropolitan counties.
Hamilton County, the largest county in the region, saw by far the largest decrease, losing 28,534 or more than 13 percent of its under-18 population. Montgomery County lost 14,700 or about 11 percent.
Probably fueled by influx from both the Dayton and Cincinnati areas, Warren County added 14,577 young people, an increase of 33 percent, and almost exactly the number lost by Montgomery County. Butler County gained 6,308 young people, or 7.3 percent.
William Brock fits the trend of families leaving metropolitan areas. In July 2000, Brock moved his family, including two children, from Dayton’s Belmont neighborhood to Monroe, where he became city manager.
Helped by families like the Brocks, Monroe’s under-18 population more than doubled during the decade, jumping up by 1,726.
The city mostly grew as a result of continued migration north from Cincinnati, Brock said, but the growth caused problems. Monroe was able to emerge from fiscal emergency in 2008, but city leaders recently huddled over how best to pay for growing pains, which also strain the local school district, formed about a decade ago when it separated from the neighboring Middletown district.
“Were going to have to see how we’re going to pay for the needs of a growing city,” Brock said. “It’s a challenge.”
Dayton has an opposite challenge. The city had an under-18 population decrease during the decade of 9,291 — a loss five times as large as any other community in Montgomery County and the seven counties that border it.
Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s planning director, painted a positive portrait, emphasizing the city’s success in attracting creative young professionals.
“This is not a statistic we’re worried about,” Sorrell said. “We’ve done a really good job of retaining that portion of our population.”
Challenges for higher education
University of Dayton officials say they anticipate a continued decline in traditional new students enrolling directly from high school — perhaps until 2018 — while a tough economy also affects the number of students who are able to pay for college.
In response, UD has reorganized recruiting efforts and is searching for untapped markets. While still drawing slightly more than half its new students from Ohio, UD has begun recruiting more aggressively outside the state, with an eye toward diversifying the campus’ ethnic make-up, Kumarasamy said.
“Creating a more diverse student body is going to be critical,” Kumarasamy said. “Our president is right now in China.”
The loss of jobs throughout Ohio is undoubtedly driving the population loss. But employment of late has ticked up some and there are pockets of job growth locally, such as at Wright-Patterson Base.
The base is one reason why Greene County’s population grew by 13,687 or 9.3 percent during the decade. But despite the overall growth, the youth population declined by 226 or 0.6 percent, an indication the county population is getting older.
Wright State’s Dockery said military retirees, attracted by the base medical center and commissary, are fueling some of that trend.
“Many people age in place once they get to a certain age,” she said.
Until 15 years ago, the American automotive industry once was centered in Michigan and Ohio, Dockery said, but now Tennessee is probably closer to the automotive industry’s national center of gravity.
Today much of the Dayton region is better suited to those headed into retirement, she said.
“People that are retired don’t have to move to where the jobs are,” she said.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2393 or kmccall @DaytonDailyNews.com.