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State population grayer, though region better at attracting young people
Although central Ohio is better at attracting young people, the state population is aging, thanks to boomers
Sunday, May 15, 2011
By Bill Bush and Collin Binkley
Ohio's getting old.
The age group from 50 to 69 grew by more than 31 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the state's overall population grew only 1.6 percent, census data show.
And while the number of children and young adults fell, the population age 80 or older grew by 21 percent.
Central Ohio saw even more growth among these groups of older residents, but, unlike the state, we also added younger people. In fact, there are more 20-somethings in the seven-county region than people in any other 10-year age span.
Demographers and other experts say the changing face of Ohio's population poses a number of public-policy issues.
The baby boomers, those born from roughly the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, are swelling the ranks of those older than 50. Experts say the implications are huge. They will put stress on programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. They will require new transportation programs. They might be less willing to pay for schools.
And they are living longer than previous generations.
"Boomers are going to have a more-active lifestyle and be able to contribute to the economy longer than perhaps previous generations have," said Roberta Garber, executive director of Community Research Partners.
But an aging society has costs. Older people generally require more health care, and long-term nursing homes are expensive, said Bonnie Kantor-Burman, the head of the Ohio Department on Aging.
"I think it's clear to say that doing things the way we were doing them would be (financially) unsustainable to the state," she said.
The state is moving toward a system in which more care is delivered in the home, which is far less costly, Kantor-Burman said.
The amount of funding for nursing-home care is one of the battlefronts in Gov. John Kasich's proposed budget for the next two years.
Central Ohio did better than the state at making babies and attracting and keeping young people, and that will help the region pay its bills, create jobs and stay vibrant, demographers said.
Basically, young people create more economic activity than older people, juicing the tax base.
"They tend to be the most economically productive and active," said Jeffrey Timberlake, a demographer and professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati.
Younger people typically are working more, making more money, buying new houses and autos, and raising families.
Generally, it's good for the economy if the population is growing, and "it's not good if everyone's leaving," Timberlake said.
"There's an economic benefit to actually have available labor, which is good," said Nancy Reger, a demographer with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
"Good labor and business go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other."
The number of local people younger than 30 is skewed by Ohio State University's more than 50,000 students, Reger said. Keeping them from leaving the state after graduation will be important, she said.
"We've got them; we just need to hold on to them," Reger said.
Matt Hemmerich, 24, and Julie Hall, 25, are just what the doctor ordered. Entertainment hot spots near Downtown drew the couple to their new apartment in the Arena District, but the city's size makes them want to settle down here.
"It's not like a huge city, but it still has features of bigger cities like New York and Chicago," including professional sports teams and a mix of neighborhood types, said Hemmerich, who was raised in Dublin and has a job with Verizon after studying marketing at Ohio State University.
Hall, his girlfriend, will move back to Columbus in July after finishing graduate school in Chicago. Life in the big city is nice, she said, but it can be intimidating.
"Especially when you're thinking long term, like raising a family, Chicago isn't as appealing," she said.
The aging population also will affect Ohio businesses' ability to retain workers, said Bill LaFayette, vice president of economic analysis for the Columbus Chamber.
Ohio businesses might have to entice workers to stay into retirement age, while other workers might need to work into retirement age, LaFayette said.
"We have older workers who want to stay engaged in the labor force, and may have to, because their 401(k) has taken a hit," LaFayette said.
The potential labor force takes a hit every time a young person decides to pack up.
Alex Haas, 26, soon could be another Ohio export. He said he can't see himself staying here much longer, even though he could turn his logistics job with Limited Brands into a career.
The Middletown native likes the cultural enclaves in Columbus but said they aren't as accessible as neighborhoods in other cities that have better public transportation and more parking.
Ohio State draws thousands of people from across the state, he said, but many people his age stay in the area briefly until they can find jobs elsewhere.
"It gets boring," Haas said.