Losing less


New federal census figures underscore the importance of immigrants to urban areas such as Lucas County, which continue to lose residents to the suburbs and exurban communities.

Around the country, more than one in three counties are losing population. Without new immigrants, many other metropolitan areas, including Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, would have lost population last year or stayed flat. Immigrants and their American-born children now account for most population growth.

Ohio can slow losses in its central cities and urban regions with policies that encourage immigration and maintain high-quality public schools, well-maintained roads, adequate mass transit, safe neighborhoods, and living-wage jobs.

New estimates for 2011 and 2012 suggest Lucas County’s decades-old population exodus is slowing. More people continue to leave the county than move in, but the county also attracted more than 500 international immigrants.

Overall, Lucas County lost roughly 1,900 people between 2011 and 2012. The latest census estimates put the county’s population at 437,998. That’s 3,817 below the official 2010 census count of 441,815.

Some, if not most, of that population loss represents a shift to other parts of the region. Figures show only a slight decline in metro Toledo’s population to 608,711, a drop of 609 residents.

Wood County gained 1,291 residents last year, growing to 128,200. Hancock County, with another 560 people, and Fulton County, which added 16 residents, were the only other counties in northwest Ohio to show growth.

Nationwide, population continues to shift outward from central cities, a trend exacerbated in recent years by fewer job opportunities. Economically depressed Detroit continues to lose residents — but also at a slower rate — as Wayne County’s population fell from 1,801,789 to 1,792,365. Southeast Michigan reported a tiny population increase.

For urban regions in Ohio and Michigan, the new census figures suggest that public policies ought to aim at maintaining populations, as well as aging infrastructure such as roads, rather than pursuing growth strategies.

Despite their still-declining populations, urban centers remain vital to their regions’ economic health. They continue to define their regions’ state and national image, and they have most of its cultural institutions and entertainment centers. Urban sprawl creates enormous costs for new roads, schools, water mains, and other infrastructure investments.

Older urban areas such as Toledo can no longer count on birth rates or domestic migration to maintain their populations. Federal and state policies must encourage — not discourage — immigration, if large northern cities such as Toledo want to continue to hold their own.