Michigan's population loss surprising only because more people didn't leave state
OK, so Michigan was the only state in the country to have lost population over the past decade, according to the recently released 2010 census.
Anyone who lived through the state’s lost decade shouldn’t have been surprised.
Michigan basically has ridden a one-horse economy over the past century, and that horse—the domestic auto industry—nearly died in 2009.
As a result of the industry’s implosion and the Great Recession, Michigan lost almost 20 percent (!) of its jobs in the past 10 years. That caused many to leave the state, searching for greener employment pastures elsewhere.
There were other factors at play, as well. Births in the state fell 11.1 percent between 2000 and 2008, the biggest decline in the country.
Michigan didn’t attract many immigrants, who fueled population growth in states such as California and Texas.
And a 2008 study by Ann Arbor-based think tank Michigan Future Inc. found that nearly half of Michigan’s college graduates were leaving the state within a year of getting their sheepskins.
The surprise is that Michigan lost just 54,804 residents, down 0.6 percent from 2000 when 9,938,444 people called the state home.
It’s not all bad news. Sure, Michigan is going to lose a congressional seat and cash from Washington.
But it might be easier these days to get a weekend tee time. If you live in a metropolitan area, you may have noticed less traffic snarling your daily commute.
And fewer residents mean less competition for new jobs that are predicted to come available as the state crawls out of its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Most of us think growth is better than decline, but an expanding population doesn’t necessarily translate to a healthier economy.
Take Nevada. Its population grew 35 percent over the past decade, the fastest rate in the county. But it also has the highest unemployment rate at 14.3 percent.
“If you look at the states with the largest percentage population growth, they are largely low-income, high-poverty, relatively high-unemployment, low-education states,” said Michigan Future President Lou Glazer. “Who wants to be like them?”
Conservative commentators say the population gains of red states, largely in the South, and declines in blue states show people are voting with their feet against liberal political ideology.
Maybe so. But the steady population march to the south and west has been going on for decades and for many reasons, not the least of which is better weather.
Glazer said he’s more troubled by the plunge in Michigan’s per capita income. The state ranked 37th in per capita income in 2009, down from 18th in 2000.
That points to a larger problem than population loss. Michigan isn’t just getting smaller; it’s becoming older and poorer.
People over the age of 65 are expected to make up 16 percent of the state’s population in 2020, up from 12 percent in 2000, according to census estimates.
But the situation is far from hopeless. Michigan has spectacular natural resources, an outstanding university system and a history of bouncing back strong from adversity.
It has a new governor in Rick Snyder who promises to reinvent Michigan into a more attractive, entrepreneurial and globally competitive state.
And despite Michigan’s recent population loss, there are still nearly 9.9 million brains here that can help him achieve that goal.