After a long period of growth, Ohio’s population has declined for two consecutive years, and the Buckeye State has seen one of the larger decreases in the nation in that time, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Ohio has seen more deaths than births since the start of the pandemic, and the state’s population is aging, experts said.
Some groups, however, said it’s not entirely clear if Ohio’s population is actually shrinking because of the data’s margin of error.
Population losses or gains aren’t necessarily good or bad, but they demand appropriate policies and resources, said Robert Graham, senior research scholar and associate director with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Oxford.
“In a state such as Ohio, there is a growing need for goods and services that meet the needs of an older population,” Graham said. “Population change, regardless of whether it is growing or declining, requires adaptation to make sure that people can thrive.”
Ohio’s population grew every year for decades, according to U.S. Census data.
But new Vintage Census estimates suggest that the Buckeye State lost about 0.07% of its population between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022, (or about 8,285 residents).
Ohio has about 11.7 million people.
The state’s population shrank by about 0.4% between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2022, (or -41,560 residents), the data indicate.
Ohio’s population loss during those two years was the ninth largest in the nation.
Eighteen other states also bled residents during that timeframe.
Idaho saw the largest growth (+4.9%) while New York saw the largest decline (-2.1%).
Margin of error
But Ohio’s population changes as estimated by the Census are minor and basically are within the dataset’s margin of error, said Alison Goebel, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center.
Goebel said she thinks that means Ohio’s population hasn’t definitively contracted.
However, Goebel said, “We can confidently say that Ohio’s population isn’t exponentially declining or growing.”
Ohio has been at the bottom of the pack when it comes to population growth for at least two decades, Goebel said.
Other states have experienced much stronger growth, and Ohio’s slow growth was why it lost a Congressional seat after the 2020 decennial Census, she said.
Ohio’s population is getting older and the state has fewer young people than in previous decades, she said.
Some young Ohioans leave the state for college or work and don’t always comes back, she said, and the state overall also does not have large refugee or immigrant populations.
“In other legacy cities and states, there has been more of a concerted effort to welcome and retain immigrants and refugees,” she said.
Stable growth is important because the state needs workers whose incomes, properties and purchases are taxed, and that revenue pays for important services, Goebel said.
A shrinking population would not be good because Ohio has roads and bridges and utilities that were built to serve larger populations and that would leave fewer people to cover the costs of these systems, she said.
States with fast-growing populations typically have strong labor force growth, which fuels economic activity and helps generate tax revenue to fund increased spending on infrastructure, education and other government services, said Pew Charitable Trusts.
“More people usually means more workers and consumers adding to economic activity as they take jobs and buy goods and services, which generates more tax revenue,” Pew said. “A growing economy, in turn, can attract even more workers and their families.”
Ohio saw about 39,600 more deaths than births between April 2020 and July 2022, said Graham, with Scripps Gerontology Center.
Deaths outnumbered births last year in the 81 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties, according to Census data that the Dayton Daily News analyzed.
The global pandemic was responsible for many deaths, and older populations were are greater risk of COVID-related death than younger groups, Graham said.
Graham also said about 6,000 more people moved out of Ohio than moved into the state between April 2020 and July 2022.
Population declines require adapting education, health care, housing, business and municipal services, state funding allocations and many other areas, Graham said.
Meanwhile, population growth can be good if a state can handle it, considering that more residents means greater demand for infrastructure, transportation, natural resources and an increased ability to provide goods and services, he said.
The downside of population growth is that it can lead to housing shortages, issues with affordability and higher cost of living, and environmental challenges, he said.
Ohio is the most affordable state in the nation, based on cost of living and housing affordability, says U.S. News and World Report.
States with largest decreases in population between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2022
Rank, state, 2022 pop, % change from 2020
1st, New York, 19.7 million, -2.1%
2nd, Illinois, 12.5 million, -1.6%
3rd, Louisiana, 4.6 million, -1.3%
4th, California, 39.1 million, -1.2%
5th, West Virginia, 1.8 million, -0.9%
9th, Ohio, 11.7 million, -0.4%
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau Vintage population data