The region’s 2020 census results do not bode ill for all rural areas, experts say
(Farm and Dairy) – Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are losing some influence in Congress, thanks to the first results of the 2020 census, released on April 26. But from what policy experts see, the change is not rooted in the changing rural areas of these states.
“It’s not strictly an urban-rural phenomenon,” said Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
The changes are not necessarily bad news for rural areas either. West Virginia is one of only three states to lose population. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania grew in population – just at a slower rate than other states. Despite slower growth, rural Ohio is doing quite well, experts say.
“Based on what we know today…this is not the bleak story that the national media paints for rural America,” said Mark Partridge, Swank Professor of Rural Policy- urban at Ohio State University. “We can find these places in Ohio, but that’s not the typical story.”
More data in the coming weeks and months will offer details about populations within states and allow states to draw new maps of congressional districts.
The three states are among seven states losing a congressional seat, leaving Pennsylvania with 17, Ohio with 15 and West Virginia with two seats.
West Virginia’s population loss was pretty much widespread, O’Leary said. A few urban areas saw population gains, but the rest of the state lost population. The state has a similar rate of people entering and leaving the state as other states. But it’s birth rate is lower and death rate is higher than most other states.
“We stand out on both sides,” O’Leary said. “We have a negative natural population rate.”
It’s hard to know exactly why, but one factor could be that West Virginia has an older population overall, he said.
Rural Ohio is also doing fairly well compared to the rest of the state, based on annual population estimates.
“It lags urban Ohio, but nationally, rural America lags urban America much more,” Partridge said. “Overall, rural Ohio isn’t doing too badly.”
In the 20th century, Ohio was near the national average in terms of population growth until 1966. Since then, it has fallen behind the rest of the country in terms of population and employment, following lower demand and increased foreign competition for manufacturing, a major state industry. .
Pennsylvania, along with Michigan and a few other states, had a similar story. Partridge sees nothing to suggest that will change over the next decade.
But Ohio has had relatively fast-growing “micropolitan” areas — towns with 10,000 to 50,000 people — as well as rural areas, like Holmes County, that aren’t booming but are faring much better. expected, depending on their size and proximity to highways.
There are several reasons for this, Partridge said. Ohio has many cities spread throughout the state, so many rural citizens are within commuting distance of a city. This helps keep populations high enough to avoid losing things like school districts and groceries, making it less likely that more people will leave.
The state’s rural counties also tend to be pragmatically run and have more authority and responsibility than county governments in many states, Partridge said.
Partridge thinks rural Ohio is unlikely to lose much political power when the redistricting process begins.
“I would say imperceptible,” he said.
Both Ohio and Pennsylvania have lost significant numbers of congressional seats in recent decades, with Pennsylvania dropping from 36 seats in 1920 to 17 this year, and Ohio from 24 in the 1960s to 15 today.
But that still leaves Pennsylvania in the top five states for electoral college votes, according to a brief from the Pennsylvania Population Network, part of Penn State University’s Population Research Institute. And when it comes to overall political attraction, a one-seat difference is unlikely to be a major change, Partridge said.
Ohio could begin to lose its swing state status, however, if it continues to have a more Republican leaning.
“If it looks like the Republicans are winning Ohio regardless, then it’s no longer a swing state,” he said.
Since Ohio is currently Republican-leaning, state power will more likely rest with which political party leads nationally, Partridge explained.
If Republicans are in the lead in Washington, Republican representatives from Ohio are more likely to lead key committees. If Ohio continues to elect fewer Democratic representatives, it is less likely that there will be any representatives in those positions when the Democrats lead in Washington.
In addition to losing some influence in national politics, West Virginia could see slightly less funding for things like education and infrastructure, as much of the federal funding is based on census data on the population, O’Leary said.
The loss of population makes it more difficult for the economy to grow. The state does not create jobs or raise wages, and industries and businesses are less likely to enter the state. Public schools and colleges have fewer students and the state ends up with fewer college graduates.
“One of the easiest ways to grow the economy is to have more people,” O’Leary said.
Policies that improve health, education levels and general well-being could help reverse this trend, he said. If other data shows that people are having fewer children in the state due to difficulties with child-rearing and work, the creation of policies on sick days, paid holidays and flexible working could also help.
More detailed census data is expected in the coming weeks and months and will allow states to begin the redistricting process.
This data, O’Leary said, could also tell more about why the state has such low birth rates and high death rates — for example, if many people who move into the state are older and many of the people leaving are younger, this could explain the population decline.
“We will be able to get demographic information,” he said. “Who are the people moving to West Virginia? Who are the people leaving? … At the moment, we don’t have the details.