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Columbus Grows As Population In Rural Ohio Shrinks

The Ohio State University

Columbus grew significantly over the past decade, as the state's traditionally rural and Appalachian regions lost residents, new census figures showed Thursday.

Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show Columbus gained almost 120,000 residents between 2010 and 2020, and Franklin County gained about 160,000, even as 33 of the state's 88 counties lost population. Four of the six Ohio counties that added the most new residents are in Central Ohio, added tens of thousands more, including two — Union and Delaware — that grew by 20% or more over the decade.

Cincinnati added more than 12,000 residents, and its suburbs also grew, mirroring the trend nationally of the fastest growth occurring in the nation’s largest cities and their suburbs, while populations in many rural areas declined in the 2020 Census.

But not all Ohio cities grew. Cleveland saw a devastating loss of more than 24,000 residents, though its suburbs mostly held strong or grew. Toledo followed the same pattern, losing 16,000 residents even as two bordering counties saw strong growth. Akron, Youngstown, Canton and Dayton all lost population, as well.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a candidate for Cleveland mayor, said the decline is “both a warning bell and a call to action for political, civic, corporate and community leaders to take dramatic, innovative action to reverse that decades-long trend.”

He touted the city's many assets — including Lake Erie, world-class medical and cultural institutions and major league sports — but said its challenges must be tackled.

“Unless we can effectively address those negatives, our city will continue to shrink, get poorer, sicker, older, more distressed and more hopeless,” he said in a statement.

Overall, Ohio's population grew by a sluggish 2.3% since 2010, compared with the national growth of 7.4%. That lag had already cost the state a congressional district, taking the total from 16 to 15.

How those new districts will be drawn is up to the Republican-led state Legislature and a new Ohio Redistricting Commission dominated by GOP members. Ohio’s cities tend to lean heavily toward Democrats, while the state’s contracting rural and Appalachian regions have lately swung toward Republicans.

Five Congressional districts lost population. They include of the four districts drawn to be Democratic those represented by Marcy Kaptur (D-OH 9) and Tim Ryan (D-OH 13) and the vacant 11th Congressional district, along with districts represented by Republicans Bill Johnson (R-OH 6) and Jim Jordan (R-OH 4).

The commission was created as part of new map-drawing rules approved by Ohio voters, meant to fight partisan gerrymandering. They require the independent commission to finish redrawing legislative districts by Sept. 1. There's a Sept. 30 deadline for the General Assembly to complete a new map of the state’s congressional districts.

The Equal Districts Coalition, representing nearly 30 advocacy organizations and unions, called on the panel to act immediately now that the data is in hand.

“For too long, Ohioans have been shut out of the political process," said Jeniece Brock, vice chair of the Ohio Citizens’ Redistricting Commission. ”We finally have a chance to fix that with fair maps — but only if our process is transparent and allows all of us an equal say in how our futures are drawn.”

Ohio is among the least diverse states, with 77% of its population being white, 12.5% Black and 4.4% Latino. The white population in the rest of the country dropped almost six points in the last decade to 57.8%.

Michael Finney, chief financial and administrative officer at Ohio University, which has the state data contract, said it will take about two weeks to process the data and get it to the Legislative Service Commission. The process involves merging precinct maps, historical voting data and the new census figures, he said.

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler contributed to this story.