Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rust Belt Demography

Ohio is dying. You know the refrain. The Wall Street Journal leaning heavily on outdated mesofacts:

"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.


EJ said...

I look forward to the time when a governor's definition of "cool" doesn't preclude restoration of statewide passenger rail service. Kasich summarily proved on this point that as a Boomer governor, he honestly doesn't have a clue about what Gens X and Y really want in terms of lifestyle choices. He couldn't move fast enough to reject federal funding for the proposed 3Cs rail that would have been a godsend for many of those same young people he mentions, but then he boasts about adding a full third lane to I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus as if it were a game-changer that will keep everyone age 35 and under from catching the next flight to Phoenix or Charlotte, both of which have embraced rail. He conveniently ignores mounting evidence that more young people than ever are opting out of driving whenever possible, favoring healthier and less costly options over a car-centered existence.


I know your sentiments are well intended, Jim, but this is one native Ohioan who hopes our next governor here embraces urban life and those who live it, instead of merely paying lip service to us in sound bytes from the apparent comfort of his mansion in sprawlurbia.

Done By Forty said...

I just started reading the Price of Everything, and the decision of how many children (and what gender) came up in the intro. As you noted, it's not likely a smart decision for the family just to have more children -- better (for the family) to have 1 or 2 you can fully fund and send to college, than to have 3 or 4 and underfund them all.

Unknown said...

Even a clown like Kasich can be right once in a while, Cincinnati does have a new 'cool' factor and the band Rush does belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and finally are!
I hate how population stats are so easily misleading. Maybe Cincinnati Metro and/or city population numbers are overall flat. BUT, the population that is here is getting younger, more diverse, better educated, less enamoured with driving a car, and is moving closer and closer to the urban core. Not just downtown, but also to the adjacent neighborhoods.
Just today, another 110unit market rate apartment complex being ramped up for 2014. This is in addition to 300 units in PhaseII of the Banks on the river. Another 300 unit complex to replace a crumbling parking garage, another 176 units in an outdated downtown office complex, and finally another 170 to be built above the existing downtown Macy's on Fountain Square. Then in Over the Rhine, there is Mercer Commons being built: 126 rental units which include 30 affordable units, 28 condos. So even if the city has 290K in the next census, it will be a very different 290K than it had last census.