COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio’s population is decreasing and growing older as household incomes remain lower than the national average aside from Columbus and its neighboring areas, a new report shows.

A majority of Ohio experienced population losses from 2000 to 2020, according to the Greater Ohio Policy Center’s new report, “Ohio + Columbus: A Tale of Two States.” While the state’s population grew by 3%, it decreased by about 1% when excluding Columbus and the surrounding areas.

(Courtesy Graphic/Greater Ohio Policy Center)

Outside of central Ohio, cities across the state experienced decreases in people under age 54 and did not experience income growth at the same rate as the nation. In addition, Ohio’s labor force decreased by 91,000 workers while Columbus and its metro gained 215,000 workers.

These demographic and economic trends are why the report calls Ohio a legacy state. 

“A legacy city or legacy community is a place that has lost population since its peak and was primarily built around an industrial manufacturing economy,” said GOPC executive director Alison Goebel.

Ohio has 22 legacy cities surrounded by 15 legacy metros that are home to 64% of the state’s population, including Akron, Toledo and Dayton. These cities still feature a significant concentration of jobs, residents and anchor institutions but are experiencing slow declines, slight growth or remaining steady.

(Courtesy Graphic/Greater Ohio Policy Center)

Meanwhile, 18% of the state’s population lives in Columbus or the surrounding areas. However, the central Ohio city is not a legacy community because it doesn’t exhibit manufacturing loss and an aging population. Legacy cities lost residents in all age groups younger than 54. 

“The city of Columbus and the metro area are growing much faster than the other cities and metro areas in Ohio,” said GOCP senior manager of special projects Erica Spaid Patras. “In other places, we see more moderate growth or even a shrinking population.” 

Columbus also experienced the highest median household income at $54,902 in 2020, as wages increased by 45%. Legacy metros did not experience income growth at the same rate, rising by 38% versus 55% for the nation.

(Courtesy Graphic/Greater Ohio Policy Center)

To combat these troubling trends, Goebel said Ohio’s cities need sufficient resources to provide services to residents. The report outlines several policies to stabilize existing populations, address the needs of an aging population, promote new housing development and retain higher-wage jobs. The recommendations include the following: 

  • Investing in existing places, rectifying historic inequities and building capacity. 
  • Revitalizing commercial and mixed-use districts and building housing in Ohio’s legacy cities. 
  • Piloting a program to help local communities modernize their zoning codes. 
  • Investing in public transportation. 

“There’s a lot of existing infrastructure in these places, there’s some really talented, smart people who want to stay in these places,” said Goebel. “We need to make those investments so that those existing assets remain in place and continue to grow.”

Read the full “Ohio + Columbus: A Tale of Two States” report by clicking here.