By: Sam Bailey, NLEA/DTE Energy Foundation Graduate Intern ‘21
Everyone goes grey at a different rate, but Northern Lower Michigan is quickly going grey. Data collected by the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reveals that Northern Lower Michigan is getting older. In 2019, 33.3% of the combined population of Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, and Emmet Counties was 60 years of age or older. In 2010, that percent was 25.3%. A rapidly aging population poses serious challenges to local communities and economies.
The articles linked here explore the changing age demographics in Antrim County, Charlevoix County, Cheboygan County, and Emmet County from 2010 to 2020. When examined collectively, the region’s population has been trending downward since 2010, decreasing from 109,708 in 2010 to 107,916 in 2019. While the total population is shrinking, the older population is growing. In 2010, 25.3% of the population was 60 years of age or older but that percentage increased to 33.3% in 2019. These shifting demographics will affect trends in our economy, especially in the labor and housing markets. Interestingly, the region gained 1,260 residents from 2019 to 2020 with much of the growth occurring in Emmet County. This growth was likely driven by the various effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Census Bureau has yet to release the age breakdown of the 2020 population so it is unknown if the increase was in the working age or older population. It also remains to be seen if that population growth is permanent. However, there is an opportunity for communities to retain the growth for the benefit of the local economy.
An aging population contributes to some of the challenges facing our region including labor shortages, housing challenges, and increasing demand on certain industries. The number of working age individuals in our communities is shrinking, a process partially driven by an aging population. Because Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, and Emmet County are all losing working age individuals, one county cannot simply supplement their smaller workforce with individuals from another county. A greying population also reinforces the regional housing shortage. As retirees move to the area and consume existing homes and the resources used to construct new ones, the housing market shrinks for individuals and families who are in the workforce. Multiple businesses that the NLEA interacts with have shared stories of losing new hires in high-skilled positions who were unable to move to the area to fill their new role due to a lack of suitable housing. Finally, an aging population places an increased demand on certain industries such as health care, retirement communities, restaurants, and recreation. While businesses in these industries will happily agree that more customers is a good thing, they are faced with the same labor shortage problems as the rest of the local economy.
These demographic trends warrant a serious examination by community leaders. In order to maintain our vibrant economy, our workforce needs to be maintained. The COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in work-from-home options may have contributed to last year’s population growth but that does not mean new residents entered our local workforce. Our leaders need to explore avenues for attracting young professionals and families to the area.