New census numbers show Greater Cincinnati’s growth streak continues

The region has seen steady population growth for years. But is ok good enough?
Downtown Cincinnati
Downtown Cincinnati(Canva)
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 5:37 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Greater Cincinnati’s run of steady growth continued in 2022, according to U.S. Census data released this week.

There are 2.256 million people in the Cincinnati metropolitan statistical area, which includes eighteen counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. That reflects an increase in 5,096 people from 2021 (+0.2%) and an increase of 8,159 people from the 2020 census.

Greater Cincinnati remains the 30th largest metropolitan area in the country and the largest in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana. The Dayton metro, with which many assume Cincinnati will eventually merge, remained steady around 812,600 residents.

Warren County is the fastest growing Cincinnati-area county and the third-fastest growing county in Ohio, having added nearly 3,000 residents (1.2%) in 2022. Boone County grew by 1,333 residents (0.9%). Hamilton County was one of just three counties in the region to lose residents, shrinking by 0.6%, or 2,464 people.

Cincinnati population growth 2000-2022
Cincinnati population growth 2000-2022(St. Louis Fed)

Greater Cincinnati has swelled by nearly 12% since the 2000 census, averaging a gain of around 11,000 residents per year over the last 22 years. The only year it lost population was 2009.

Gains slowed during the pandemic, reflecting a national trend as people moved away from big cities en masse. Many of the country’s largest metropolitan areas lost populations—some dramatically.

The 2022 data show that trend reversing in some areas, particularly the south and west, and deepening in others. U.S. metros grew by 0.4% between 2021 and 2022, but the country’s three largest cities (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles) all shrunk. More than 176,000 people (1.8% of its population) have fled Chicago since 2020.

Other Midwestern metros, many considered peer cities with Cincinnati, are also experiencing significant population drain.

  • The Cleveland metro, now at 2.06 million, has lost 1.2% of its population (25,905 people) since 2020.
  • The Pittsburgh metro, now at 2.34 million, has lost 0.9% of its population (21,765 people) since 2020.
  • The Milwaukee metro, now at 1.56 million, has lost 0.9% of its population (14,929 people) since 2020.
  • The St. Louis metro, now at 2.80 million, has lost 0.66% of its population (18,973 people) since 2020.
  • The Detroit metro, now at 4.35 million, has lost 1.1% of its population (46,268 people) since 2020.

Louisville, like Dayton, held steady over the past two years with a 2022 population of 1.28 million that’s essentially unchanged since 2020. But several other peer cities are surging.

  • The Columbus metro, now at 2.16 million, has gained 22,587 people since 2020.
  • The Indianapolis metro, now at 2.14 million, has gained 30,695 people since 2020.
  • The Kansas City metro, now at 2.21 million, has gained 17,464 people since 2020.
  • The Nashville metro, now at 2.04 million, has gained 57,432 people since 2020.

Is ok good enough?

The data put Cincinnati in a unique spot. Its nearby peer cities, with which it competes for events, attention and residents, are easily delineable into two broad categories: booming and busting. But Cincinnati, with growth that’s curiously marginal, defies those categories.

“We’re happy Cincinnati is growing when many of our peer cities are not,” Brandon Rudd, director of the center for research and data with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, said. “But we’re constantly looking to try to find ways to improve that growth. We certainly don’t think the kind of steady growth we’ve seen is good enough. We would like to see that increase.”

[Cincinnati ranked above Columbus, Cleveland as best place to live in Ohio]

Population, of course, is just part of the picture. The Chamber ranks Greater Cincinnati 4th overall assessing 20 key indicators among nine selected peer cities (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Louisville and Dayton).

Rudd says the biggest thing holding the region back is housing.

Greater Cincinnati faces a housing shortage linked to its growing population, a decade of sparse residential construction, the lingering legacy of the Great Recession and the loss of housing through demolition.

Both rental costs and home prices surged during the pandemic. The region’s median home value rose 138% to $260,000 from 2019-2022, which put it on pace with Columbus, Kansas City and Indianapolis.

“We are a relatively affordable region for now, but if that housing shortage persists, we know that’s going to become an issue, and we know it’s limiting our ability to grow our population,” Rudd said.

Residential construction in the region shows more housing is on the way. Greater Cincinnati issued 15.4% more housing permits in 2022 than 2021, and much of the increase came from a jump in multi-family permits. Moreover, the region issued 42.3% more housing permits in 2021 than it did in 2016, a greater change than Columbus (+39.7%) or Kansas City (+8.3%).

But that increase, while a signal of the region’s overall desirability, isn’t enough to satisfy demand, Rudd says.

The Chamber is advocating for zoning reforms to help the city grow. Rudd says the reforms would allow more types of housing, from market rate to affordable.

He also says the Chamber is working to grow the local work force by adopting measures that welcome domestic and international migrants.

“We know that a lot of our growth has been through immigrants over the past decade. We would like to continue that and super charge that growth,” she said.

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