"I think Ohio can be the best state in the country and that's not political puff." So boasted Buckeye Gov. John Kasich at the Hamilton County Republican Party annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner this week. "Young people like Cincinnati," he added. "It's a cool, happening place."
Uh huh, and that's why new Census Bureau data show that last year Cincinnati was the 10th slowest-growing metro in the country, among those with populations greater than one million. The biggest population loser? Cleveland. Mr. Kasich can hardly be faulted for playing up a bad hand that he in large part inherited. Ohio's big cities have been shrinking for the past two decades. But then again, so have a lot of cities in the Rust Belt and New England, including Detroit and Providence, R.I.
Kasich, being a politician, likes to play both sides of the fence. When convenient to tout brain gain Ohio, he'll do so. He's also fond of scapegoating brain drain. Demography is used as a weapon in policy debates.
Rural America is dying. You know the refrain. Daily Yonder sounding the alarm:
The Census report spawned a number of headlines about "dying" counties. In most rural counties with more deaths than births, however, the numbers were very close. In about half (463) of the 943 rural counties that had a natural decrease in 2012, there were 25 or fewer more deaths than births.
In this case, the narrative is more grounded and less sensational. Regardless, more deaths than births is not good news for US rural communities. Forgetting migration, this is a tale of demographic decline.
Or, is it? Our fixation with population growth is mired in an early 20th-century reality. Demographer Wolfgang Lutz with a fresh perspective:
In a recent book, "Whither the Child?" (Paradigm press, available here) Mr Lutz and two co-authors argue that if you take improving educational standards properly into account, the optimum fertility rate is lower than the replacement rate – 1.8 not 2.1. This happens because, they say, education is expensive (hence having slightly fewer children is rational) and also because better-educated people earn more and can therefore support more children and retired people through their labour.
Emphasis added. A quick review of the Daily Yonder analysis, "In most rural counties with more deaths than births, however, the numbers were very close."
A quick review of the WSJ's beat down of Kasich, "Ohio's big cities have been shrinking for the past two decades."
We are concerned about population numbers. Are they going up or down? Lutz introduces a qualitative consideration, education. We should focus more on quality then on quantity.
Ben Winchester has the backs of rural communities:
"While we lose the kids, we gain the people aged 30 to 49 and a lot of these people coming into our rural communities are arriving with high levels of education, with earning power, with experience and with children," Winchester said. "It's counterintuitive."
The quality of the human capital that moves into rural communities is much better than those who leave (i.e. young adults). Global cities such as Chicago suck in the best rural talent and eventually spit out a more refined, efficient product. Chicago's brain drain is Mankato's brain gain. The headline still reads, "Mankato is Dying."
On the Ohio front, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland rides to the rescue:
Columbus has the most educated cohorts generally. Across the country, state capitals often have unusually high educational attainment. This is especially true if they are home to a large state university, as is Columbus. The Pittsburgh trend is remarkable. Among older Pittsburgh residents, education levels are below the national average, like those of Cincinnati and Cleveland. For residents younger than 40, however, degree attainment jumps up to the levels of Columbus. If the highly educated cohorts in Pittsburgh continue to phase in, the city will eventually have a workforce like a university town rather than a former industrial center. Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo can also anticipate modestly rising education levels based on cohort replacement. The education levels in the Dayton and Youngstown areas are essentially the same across the age cohorts, so these areas may not experience any rise due to the phasing in of more educated young people.
Emphasis added. Using the work of Wolfgang Lutz, we should make a distinction between Cincinnati/Cleveland/Toledo and Dayton/Youngstown when discussing Ohio's demographic woes. Concerning Cincinnati, Kasich is right and the Wall Street Journal is wrong. Just my two cents, the WSJ needs to find a different ax to grind.