Like most other states, Ohio will have to face the challenge of a steadily aging population during the next few decades, analysts have warned. East Ohio happens to be ground zero in the graying of the Buckeye State.
Projections by the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami (Ohio) University indicate residents of Belmont, Jefferson, Harrison and Monroe counties are substantially older, on average, than most of their fellow Ohioans. That is part of a trend expected to continue at least through 2050.
By 2020, 14 of the state's 88 counties are expected to contain 30 percent or more residents 60 years of age or higher. The four local counties, along with six others on the eastern edge of Ohio, are among that number.
By 2030, many more counties will have passed the 30 percent level, but East Ohio will be even older. By then, the 60-or-older population percentages are expected to be 34.1 in Belmont County, 31.8 in Jefferson, 33.2 in Harrison and 37.1 in Monroe. Nearly half the residents of Noble County are expected to be 60 or older by 2030.
A variety of challenges, ranging from government budgets to health care, will grow more difficult as average ages grow higher. Some, such as how to pay for Social Security and Medicare, are obvious.
Others are less so, but of more concern to local governments and school districts. For example, as we have pointed out in the past, older people tend to be less likely to vote in favor of property tax levies. And, as some local first responders have noted, older populations mean more work for ambulance crews and firefighters.
With many in public education and local government still struggling to overcome problems related to the recession, most probably don't want to think about the structural changes that will be needed to handle the graying of Ohio. But strategic planning needs to be done, and very soon. The changes necessary to handle a different balance of age groups will not be easy to make, even once we understand what they are. The sooner East Ohio residents and local officials determine what needs to be done, the better.