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Ohio’s diversity divide: urban areas are diversifying, but rural areas aren’t

People sit at tables and on stairs in downtown Cincinnati.
Downtown Cincinnati Facebook
People of color make up a larger share of Ohio's population now than they did a decade ago. But the increase happened almost entirely in and around the state's cities, like Cincinnati, shown here.

Ohio is becoming more diverse.

More than a decade ago, in 2011, people of color made up 18.6% of the population. By 2021, that number had grown to 22.2% — an increase of 3.6%.

But that growth did not happen equally across the state.

In fact, it happened almost entirely in Ohio’s urban and suburban areas, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Alex Dorman, a research fellow at The Center for Community Solutions, a nonpartisan think tank.

“What we found in rural populations is that really the racial diversity has remained stagnant,” he said.

Dorman’s findings about Ohio are consistent with a national trend: the country is becoming more racially diverse too.

And like the country, Ohio’s youngest generations are its least uniform. About a third of the state’s babies and toddlers are people of color, compared with just about 13% of the state’s seniors aged 65 and older.

A graph shows the difference in the percentage of Ohioans of color between 2011 and 2021.
Alex Dorman
The Center for Community Solutions
Over the past decade, Ohio has seen a growth in the percentage of the population who are people of color.

Dorman posits this trend is influenced by factors like immigration, but now that it’s established, he said racial diversity is likely to continue growing.

“Young people typically grow into older people, that's usually how it works,” he said. “So in cities and more urban and suburban areas, we can make the assumption that racial diversity will continue to grow.”

But since rural Ohio isn’t diversifying at the same pace, he anticipates the racial makeup of those regions will remain almost entirely white.

“And that's only going to create a bigger divide between our rural areas and our more urban areas,” Dorman said. “As the people that comprise those areas start to look different from each other, they'll start to represent two different populations of individuals.”

That could have big implications for the state, especially in regard to ongoing conversations about representation and redistricting.

“When you grow up somewhere that is reflective of a changing racial demographic, you develop a level of comfort with it,” Dorman said. “This is your normal.”

But not everyone in the state is developing that new concept of normal.

“Despite us talking about the country and the state of Ohio becoming more racially diverse, that's just not the story for everyone who lives in Ohio,” Dorman said, “and certainly not the story for the roughly 24% of Ohio's population that live in the census designated rural areas.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.