UA professor co-authors study on downward trends of Ohio’s economy


Dr. Amanda Weinstein

Dr. Amanda Weinstein

Ohio was once the third most populous state in the nation; home to the first inland boomtowns that grew so quickly cities struggled to keep up with the tremendous growth. It was an economic powerhouse rivaled only by New York and Pennsylvania. A new report released today from Dr. Amanda Weinstein, associate professor in the Department of Economics at The University of Akron, titled “Falling Behind: How Ohio Continues to Lose its Place in the U.S. Economy,” asserts that Ohio has been falling behind for over a century and that without a significant course correction, it will only continue to lose ground.

The report, a partnership with former Ohio Congressman James Renacci, a businessman in Ohio who chairs Ohio’s Future Foundation, and co-authored with Dr. Michael Hicks and Dr. Emily Wornell at the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, details the economic underpinnings of Ohio’s rise and fall from the third most populous state in the nation.

Losing Ground

Ohio is falling behind – not just in the wake of the pandemic, but as a result of seeds of decline sewn a century ago that continue today. Ohio, once quick to adapt to the prevailing economic headwinds when transportation costs determined the success or failure of places, has failed to continually adjust course in response to changing economic forces, such as globalization and automation.

The report asserts Ohio is falling behind in nearly every metric that provides an indication of the long run economic prospects of a state. Even before the pandemic hit, Ohio ranked 31st in population growth, 30th in wage growth, and 37th in job growth since 2015, a far cry from the booming third most populous state in the nation that Ohio once was.      

Weinstein suggests that chief among these concerns is educational attainment. “A skilled workforce is one of the most consistent predictors of the long run success of a region and Ohio ranks 30th in the share of the population with a college degree and 36th in higher education spending per capita,” Weinstein said. “Without it, Ohio sets itself up for failure.”

Ohio was once a leader in public education producing a workforce that was not only ready to adapt to the sudden economic changes of the industrial revolution but also ready to become the innovators that lead the way during the industrial revolution. Despite Ohio’s outsized number of colleges and universities, Ohio is failing to keep graduates in Ohio. As Ohio continues to rely comparatively more on manufacturing, it ranks 45th in industry diversity. In terms of jobs, Ohio simply has less to offer college graduates. Even when graduates do find jobs, they face higher than average income taxes and sales taxes with less to show for these taxes in terms of the quality of life enhancing amenities skilled workers are increasingly attracted to.

For example, Ohio ranks 42nd in state and federal park acres per capita. “Quality of life is important to people,” Weinstein stated. “But quality of life is also important to the economy as higher quality of life is associated with higher population growth and higher employment growth.” 

Focusing on education and quality of life would require a significant change in the mindset of many policymakers, businesses, and residents in Ohio. “When it comes to making real lasting change to turn around Ohio’s economy, the state can’t think small. It must return to the Ohio that thought big,” Weinstein said. Without a significant course correction, without some big and bold ideas Ohio will only continue to fall further behind, the report summarizes.

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