By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - As Ohio's population stays static, the number of elderly people in the state continues to grow, according to new population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2003, there were an estimated 196,400 Ohioans older than 84, an increase of 17,314 individuals or 9.6 percent from 2000, according to figures released Thursday.
The number of Ohioans age 80 to 84 also increased to an estimated 234,043 in 2003, up 8 percent from 2000.
By contrast, Ohio lost 79,011 people age 20-44 during the same time period, a drop of nearly 20 percent.
Overall, Ohio grew to 11,435,798 people in 2003, a 0.06 percent increase.
Demographers and experts on aging generally agree that people are living longer, helped by advances in medicine allowing them to live more independently.
The elderly "are benefiting from better health care, disability rates are lower, and many people are remaining in their own homes without any assistance from the government whatsoever," said Steve Proctor, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Aging.
The aging of Ohioans and the loss of younger residents are both issues Gov. Bob Taft has tried to address, spokesman Orest Holubec said Wednesday.
In a speech this month, Taft promised to increase state funding for a program that allows the elderly to live at home instead of nursing homes.
Taft, a Republican, also plans to lead a commission studying education issues from preschool through college. Taft has also pushed the need for improving education to bring high-tech jobs to Ohio through his Third Frontier technology proposals.
"Almost everything we do ties into keeping bright, young students in the state by creating jobs in order to keep them here," Holubec said.
In Cuyahoga County, the state's largest metropolitan area, the percentage of people age 85 and older grew 9 percent over the three years studied by the Census. At the same time, the county's overall population dropped about 2 percent to about 1.4 million.
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