According to most recent US Census estimates, Ashtabula County’s population dropped from 101,497 in 2010 to 99,175 in 2014. What does it matter that Ashtabula County lost 2,322 people between 2010-2014? It matters a great deal because the loss:
- Reduces the size of the available workforce in the county.
- Reduces the number of consumers in the county.
- Reduces the number of taxpayers in the county.
- Reduces the county’s share of federal and state funds that are population-based.
- Perpetuates the county’s image of decline.
So what do we know about this population loss issue?
First, the loss is consistent with the long term population trend in the county. Second, we need to drill down to determine who we are losing? Most likely these are either: 1) economically mobile people who can afford to move; or 2) residents in search of better job opportunities. Ashtabula County cannot afford to lose either.
The trends in our county are consistent with what is happening in many other rural areas, which are described quite well in a USDA report from 2013. That report says:
- Rural America’s job growth is stagnant and the population is in decline. In fact, it’s the first time such a population decline has been recorded in the nation’s rural counties.
- More people are choosing to live and work in urban areas for lifestyle and employment reasons.
- Low-paying jobs are particularly worrisome to the nation’s young people, and they’re leaving rural areas in response to the tepid job growth.
- Rural areas must work much harder at re-shaping themselves as places for higher skilled jobs and technology businesses and they must provide higher quality amenities to residents (especially education and residential choices).
The Star Beacon beat me to the punch on the new Census release.
What do we do about the long term population loss? We must:
- Increase economic opportunity (higher paying jobs with benefits) in the county, especially for young people.
- Expand housing options for those in a position to move up.
- Continue to build the county’s amenity base (including tourism assets) to improve quality of life.
- Work harder on talent retention and recruitment and residential recruitment.