Allen County lost population. Again.
It’s time for people to set aside petty differences and understand why people are leaving.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest county population estimates. It placed 103,198 people in Allen County as of July 1, 2017, which is 2.9 percent fewer than there were on April 1, 2010. It’s down 4.8 percent compared to the 2000 Census.
That’s for Allen County as a whole. It doesn’t do any better when you look at the city estimates, which are currently only available from July 1, 2016. Lima lost 3.2 percent of its residents since the 2010.
These numbers are striking because they’re so out of line.
The nation’s population increased 5.5 percent to 325 million people in that time. So maybe that growth happened somewhere else, right?
Ohio’s population grew by 1.1 percent. So maybe that growth happened somewhere else, right?
Hancock County’s population grew by 1.3 percent. That’s just one county north on Interstate 75.
I hate to feed into “Findlay envy,” but something is pulling people away. The Census also released a its Census Flows Mapper this week, showing where people are going when they left Allen County between 2011 and 2015.
Hancock County’s population grew by 147 people thanks to Allen County residents heading up the interstate. Our only consolation is it’s not as bad as Wood County suffered, sending a net of 482 people to Hancock County.
Putnam County led the list of popular destinations for former Allen County residents, with a net of 162 people heading north. That makes some sense, as many of those communities are practically bedroom communities to Lima. (Some faithful readers will note this if I don’t: I’m among the many people who commute from Lima’s neighbor to the north every day. It’s a lovely drive.)
On one positive note, Allen County had a net increase of 21 people who once lived in Van Wert County, which took a beating of 1.8 percent of its population leaving since 2010.
We are shrinking as a region too. Putnam County lost 1.8 percent of its population. Auglaize County lost 0.4 percent of its population. As Lima goes, so goes the region.
There’s a real push to grow the region, and I support those efforts by Greater Lima Region Inc. There truly is a perception problem in the region, and it needs correction before it’s too late.
It can’t be that there isn’t opportunity here. There were 1,635 jobs listed within 10 miles of downtown Lima on OhioMeansJobs.com on Friday morning. Yes, 23 percent of those are listed as entry level jobs, earning less than $30,000.
However, 31 percent were listed as middle-income jobs, earning $30,000 to $49,000. Another 28 percent were “upper middle income jobs,” making $50,000 to $79,000, and 9 percent were “high income jobs,” earning $80,000 to $99,000. The remaining 10 percent could make more than $100,000.
In other words, 77 percent of those jobs posted could earn more than $30,000 a year. If that’s not opportunity, I don’t know what is.
The problem also can’t be expensive housing. The median home value in Allen County was $107,500 between 2012 and 2016, well below the state average of $131,900.
We can all have our theories. One of mine is we don’t have enough Asian investment in the region, as shown by the 0.9 percent Asian population in Allen County (and 0.9 percent in Auglaize County and 0.6 percent in Auglaize County). That’s compared to 2.2 percent in Ohio, including 1.8 percent in Hancock County.
Another is we’re not doing enough to draw young people back to the region, especially listening to what’s pulling them away from here in the first place.
A fairly worrisome one is our population over the age of 65 is higher in Allen County (16.8 percent), than the state (16.2) and national (15.2 percent) averages. It’s worse in Van Wert (18.7 percent), Auglaize (17.8 percent) and Putnam (16.3 percent) counties. Americans of this vintage just aren’t adding to our population base.
And perhaps our available housing stock just isn’t right for what the population wants.
The region needs to look at the cold hard facts of declining population when there’s growth nearby and do something about it.