Census Figures Report Reaction

Ohio Population Growth Rates Map

Census Figures Show Continued Slide in Population

Today’s edition of the Times had a good article from Michael Kelly that speaks to relative decline in the region and the county specifically. Consider some of the data presented.

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Washington County’s gradual population loss continued in 2018.

The annual population estimates through July of last year show the county with 307 fewer people than lived in it at the same time in 2017, a loss of 0.5 percent. If the trend since 2010 continues next year, the county will be home to fewer than 60,000 people for the first time since 1974, according to Census data archived with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The county population peaked at 64,586 in 1983, the St. Louis fed data indicates.

The population decline is almost evenly split between deaths outnumbering births and more people moving out of the county than coming in.

The census data includes births, deaths and the net increase or decrease, and migration figures at the county level. For Washington County the data show 591 births and 743 deaths for a net decrease of 152, and indicates that a net of 22 people moved to the county as a result of international migration but a net 175 people left the county for other places for a net loss of 153.

In Ohio, births outnumbered deaths by 191,951. During the same one-year period, 204,665 more people moved away from Ohio to other parts of the U.S. than moved in, but a net of 169,396 moved to Ohio from other countries – “international migration,” as it’s termed by the Census Bureau. The bottom line is that the state’s total population increased by an estimated 152,685.

There are two quotes in the article that I want to address

First one from Marietta City Council President Schlicher

It’s definitely a concern, especially for the city’s tax base, but what’s interesting is that even though the population goes down, the (tax) revenue keeps going up over the last decade, he said. Despite that, however, the median age of the population has continued going up, school enrollments are shrinking and the prospects for the future don’t currently show growth.

What Mr. Schlicher is mentioning is the fiscal cliff.  (The Fed released a detailed report of what is happening all across the country. Feel free to take a look)  The data indicates the peak earning years of the majority of our community have passed, and we now have an aging population that is paying peak income tax. For the majority of our working citizenry their income is as high as it has ever been, and their earning potential is effectively capped since they have hit the top bands. While that is encouraging, what is not is the reality that a bevy of these workers are soon to exit the workforce and the declining population numbers noted in the article illustrate an inability to back fill the positions that are rolling off. So essentially, we are seeing a 5-7 year window of high return before a massive shortfall due to retirements.

This should signal significant alarm among those who are collecting these revenues. Hopefully the revenue director, kidding there isn’t one, takes a hard look at the dollars that are coming in and makes clear projections to our city council regarding future spending. If there are spending increases while at the same time we anticipate a significant short fall in less than a decade we will again be upside down fiscally.

Second, in regards to the comments from Washington County Commissioner David White who said “communities everywhere are facing the same problem, much of which is demographic.”

“It’s different now,” he said. “It’s a reality people all over the country are facing. Except for a few booming areas, most are experiencing population decline, and for many it’s worse than ours.”

Consider that last phrase, “for many it’s worse than ours”.  This speaks volumes to the barometer that some of our local officials are looking to. If we judge ourselves by how well are performing compared to those worse off than ourselves, we can heartily pat ourselves on the back because there may always be someone worse off. However, if our barometer is growth communities we need to take action. I for one who looks only to communities we aspire to be for models and benchmarks. Seeing the data demands action, not thankfulness that it isn’t as bad as it could be.

Additionally, the statement says that “except for a few booming areas”. Guess which area 2 hours immediately to our north had a net positive growth over the last decade? That’s right our capital city of Columbus. We all know persons who have left the comforts of home for the greener pastures of Gahanna, Hilliard, Dublin, Delaware, Canal Winchester. Some of that growth…………….is our loss. These trends need remedied.

Lastly, the data set that has me most worried in regards to economic development is our MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) classification.

Parkersburg-Vienna Metropolitan Statistical Area (Wood, Wirt and Pleasant counties, W.Va., and Washington County, Ohio)

•2010: 92,668.

•2018: 90,033.

•Change: -2,635 (-2.8 percent).

•Change in rank, U.S. MSAs: from No. 364 to No. 366, out of a total of 383.

For outsiders who are seeking investment opportunities, the shrinking of our combined MSA is problematic. Investments need sufficient bandwith to secure themselves. As our status as an MSA dilutes we will see less and less outside investment because from a statistical metric, there isn’t enough of a market to justify investment. This is a warning shot, and the true metric of determination for our region. We need Parkersburg, Vienna, Marietta, etc. to grow. I can assure you the lifestyle amenities you crave, the Targets, Skyzone’s, Chain stores will fold up shop as our numbers dissipate and the likelihood of attracting new ones grinds to a halt.

The time is now for careful conversations with community leaders and plotting the way forward must begin in earnest. We at the Port Authority have been shouting the needs and suggesting action steps for the past couple years, but the urgency has not been there from much of our community.

It’s make or break time.