Residents Are Fleeing These Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Ohio

Ohio wooden sign with agriculture landscape on background
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Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: November 30, 2023

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Ohio is one of the most populated states and is currently listed as the seventh most populated and the tenth most densely populated in the U.S. Today, we’re going to take a look at Ohio’s population, specifically, the counties where people are leaving at huge percentages. Let’s look at the fastest shrinking counties in Ohio and learn more about what’s going on in the state!

Cleveland, Ohio, USA downtown city skyline in the daytime.

Urban areas like Cleveland have seen population increases, but more rural areas have taken the brunt of population decreases in the state.

Ohio is a state in the Midwest region of the United States, with a population of about 11.5 million people. Ohio’s population growth has been slow and steady for most of the 21st century, but it has also experienced some fluctuations and challenges. Let’s look at some of the data about Ohio’s overall population trends right now, as they can help inform us when we look more specifically at the counties within it.

From 2010 to 2020, Ohio saw a population increase of 2.3%, resulting in a total population of ~11.8 million people. Although they saw an increase in population, the relatively small 2.3% was about a third of the national average of 7.4%, putting Ohio at 38th among the other states in terms of percentage growth overall.

Additionally, the data shows that Ohio had a negative domestic migration rate (2020-2022), meaning that more people from the U.S. moved out of Ohio than moved into it. During that time period, Ohio was ranked 42nd on the list and had a net migration of -39,915. On the other side of things, Ohio had a relatively high international net migration of 33,911, putting it at 13th on the list. Together, this means that Ohio’s growth is primarily driven by internal birth rate and international migration.

Let’s take a more granular look at the counties within Ohio and see which ones are shrinking the fastest.

Another factor that affects the population trends of these counties is urbanization.

The Top 10 Fastest Shrinking Counties in Ohio

For our list, we are looking at the population growth since 2010 to give a more accurate picture. Exclusively looking from 2020 on would likely be inaccurate at a meta-level because of the impacts of the pandemic.

1. Harrison County

Harrison County Courthouse in Cadiz, Ohio

Harrison County is the fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -11.31% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 14,069. The county has a population density of 35 people per square mile and a total land area of 411 square miles.

Harrison County is located in the eastern portion of Ohio and is bordered by Jefferson County to the east, which shares a border with West Virginia. The county seat of Harrison County is Cadiz, a village with a little over 3,000 people. The region was historically reliant on coal mining through the twentieth century, although the discovery of Marcellus Shale in the area has allowed them to expand natural gas operations.

2. Monroe County

Monroe County Courthouse, located along Main Street in Woodsfield, Ohio, United States. Designed by Samuel Hannaford and built in 1905, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monroe County is the second fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -11.17% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 13,007. The county has a population density of 29 people per square mile and a total land area of 457 square miles. Ohio’s average county density is much higher, sitting somewhere around 284 people, meaning Monroe County is pretty sparsely populated.

Monroe County is located in the eastern part of Ohio and shares a border with West Virginia to the east. The county seat and most populated town in Monroe is Woodsfield. Some other notable towns in the county include Beallsville, a historic site dating back to the Civil War, and Clarington.

3. Morgan County

The Morgan County Courthouse in w:McConnelsville, Ohio.

Morgan County is the third fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of 10.81% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 13,427. The county has a population density of 32 people per square mile and a total land area of 422 square miles.

Like the others on our list so far, Morgan is located in the eastern portion of the state, to the northeast of the Wayne National Forest, and only a few counties away from the West Virginia border to the east. The county seat and largest village is McConnelsville. Morgan County was named after Daniel Morgan, a congressman from Virginia and a general during the Revolutionary War.

4. Carrol County

Façade of the Carroll County Courthouse, located at 119 S. Lisbon Street in downtown Carrollton, Ohio, United States. Built in 1885, the Carroll County Courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Carroll County is the fourth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -9.54% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 27,312. The county has a population density of 65 people per square mile and a total land area of 399 square miles.

Carroll County is, once again, located in the eastern portion of the state, just to the southeast of Canton, Ohio. The county seat is Carrollton (which means “Town of Carroll”), but its largest village is Minerva. The county was named after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who ended up being the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.

5. Scioto County

Scioto County Courthouse

Scioto County is the fifth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -8.98% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 72,361, a sizable jump in size from the other counties we’ve been looking at so far. The county has a population density of 147 people per square mile and a total land area of 610 square miles.

Scioto County is located in the southern portion of Ohio and shares a border with Kentucky along the Ohio River. The county seat and largest city in Scioto is Portsmouth, although there are other large cities and towns, including Wheelersburg, Lucasville, and Minford. Much of Scioto County is covered in forest and contains portions of the Shawnee State Park.

6. Lawrence County

Lawrence County Courthouse, Ironton, Ohio, USA. The gun is a 155 mm howitzer M1917 or M1918, either French-made or based on a French design.

Lawrence County is the sixth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -8.76% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 56,977. The county has a population density of 133 people per square mile and a total land area of 457 miles.

Lawrence County is located in the southern part of Ohio and is the southernmost of all counties in the state. It shares a border with both West Virginia and Kentucky, using the Ohio River as its boundary. The county seat and largest city is Ironton, although South Point and Proctorville are also notable. Other relatively large cities are located across the Ohio River, including Huntington and Kenovea in West Virginia and Catlettsburg, England Hill, Ashland, Flatwoods, Russel, and Westood in Kentucky.

7. Meigs County

Front and western side of the Meigs County Courthouse, located at 100 E. Second Street in Pomeroy, Ohio, United States. Built in 1848, it is part of the Pomeroy Historic District, a historic district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Meigs County is the seventh fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -8.53% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 21,742. The county has a population density of 54 people per square mile, and a total land area of 432 square miles.

Meigs County is located in the southeastern portion of Ohio and shares a border with West Virginia along the Ohio River. The largest village and county seat is Pomeroy, with Middlepoint Racine, Rutland, and Syracuse mostly being smaller, former industrial towns. The county was named for Return J. Meigs Jr. The fourth Governor of Ohio.

8. Jefferson County

Front and eastern side of the Jefferson County Courthouse, located at 301 Market Street in Steubenville, Ohio, United States. Built in 1874, it is part of the Steubenville Commercial Historic District, a historic district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jefferson County is the eighth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -8.32% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 63,911. The county has a population density of 144 people per square mile and a total land area of 411 square miles.

Jefferson County is located along the eastern border of Ohio and shares a border with the panhandle of West Virginia. Shortly across the panhandle is Pennsylvania. The largest city and county seat is Steubenville, although towns like Toronto and Mingo Junction remain from the steel and iron foundries that supported the region economically in the past. Jefferson County was named after Thomas Jefferson, the vice president at the time of the county’s creation.

9. Pike County

Southwestern side and rear of the Pike County Courthouse, located on the eastern corner of the junction of Second (State Routes 220/335) and Market Streets in downtown Waverly, Ohio, United States. Built in 1866, it is part of the Waverly Canal Historic District, a historic district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pike County is the ninth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -7.34% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 26,602. The county has a population density of 58 people per square mile and a total land area of 444 square miles.

Pike County is located in the southern portion of the state, just to the north of Scioto County (another one on our list). The largest city and county seat is Waverly. Piketon, another town in the county, was previously a uranium enrichment site that offered some advances in nuclear energy, but the Department of Energy shut the plant down.

10. Belmont County

Belmont County Courthouse in St. Clairsville, Ohio

Belmont Couty is the tenth fastest-shrinking county in Ohio, with a population decrease of -7.21% from 2010-2020, and a current population of 65,327. The county has a population density of 153 people per square mile and a total land area of 541 square miles.

Belmont County is located in the eastern part of Ohio and shares a border with the panhandle of West Virginia along the Ohio River. The county seat of Belmont is St. Clairsville, but the largest city is Martins Ferry. The name originally comes from French, meaning “beautiful mountain”. The region was settled by Quakers, has an abolitionist history, and is the home of Benjamin Lundy.

Conclusion

Power plant

Coal, steel, iron, and nuclear plants being shut down in these counties has drastically impacted local populations and infrastructure.

One of the striking patterns we have observed is that almost all of the shrinking counties are located in eastern Ohio, along or near the Ohio River. The area, known as Appalachian Ohio, has historically been a center of manufacturing, coal, oil, gas, and steel industries, which provided jobs and income for many people.

However, in recent decades, these industries have faced decline, competition, and environmental challenges, leading to plant closures, layoffs, and outmigration. Many of the shrinking counties have been unable to adapt, ultimately reducing tax revenue and hitting the region’s infrastructure. When this happens, people often leave looking for more opportunities.

Another factor that affects the population trends of these counties is urbanization (the process of people moving from rural to urban areas). A few factors like education, health care, entertainment, and jobs drive urbanization. Urbanization impacts the demographics of rural areas, with young and educated people leaving more often than older and less educated people. This leads to an aging and shrinking population in rural areas, and a vicious cycle of failing infrastructure and an aging population impacts the region further.

This isn’t unique to Ohio but something seen across most of rural America as a whole. In cities like Cleveland and Columbus, populations are increasing and will likely continue to do so. Unfortunately, these trends often cause harm to the communities affected.

Summary of the 10 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Ohio

RankFastest Shrinking County
1Harrison County
2Monroe County
3Morgan County
4Carrol County
5Scioto County
6Lawrence County
7Meigs County
8Jefferson County
9Pike County
10Belmont County
Summary Table of the 10 Fastest-Shrinking Counties in Ohio


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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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