When Demographic Analysis Causes Concern

In late December, the Census Bureau released its latest population estimates for the nation and states.  Since Michigan was the only state to lose population over the last decade, but appeared to be coming out of the recession on the back of a revived auto industry, I anticipated continued loss but hoped for a slight gain.  While Michigan’s July 2011 population was down from that of 2010, it was less than 1,000 residents – 956 to be exact – and was actually exceeded by Rhode Island.  This represented a great improvement over the average loss of almost 30,000 residents per year since 2004.

Since Ron Dzwonkowski at the Free Press and I are always discussing the latest Michigan population trends, I sent over my quick analysis for his information.  He called back immediately and said that he would like to do an editorial for the Sunday, January 1, 2012 edition.  I now quote from that editorial.

The positive spin from the latest Census Bureau report on state populations is that Michigan has stabilized. We still lost people last year, but the outward flow is down to a drip — not even 1% — and while we may never see 10 million again, we’re still No. 8 among the 50 states.  For a few more years, anyway.

But burrow into the data a little further and it shows a troubling trend. There’s an ever growing share of people like me in Michigan — over age 50, well over in my case — and no matter how important we think we are, there’s no future in us (unless you’re in health care, non-pediatric.)

According to demographer Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, 25% of the state population was over age 50 back in 1990. Twenty years later, it is more than 34% — and nearly 14% of the state is 65 or older. That’s a lot of “institutional knowledge,” sure, but with few exceptions, not a lot of invention, innovation, entrepreneurial energy or eagerness to embrace change. While that’s natural with aging, it also means that Michigan, in short, is growing more of what’s holding us back.

Who cares how many people are here? Who they are is what matters.

Among the 50 states, census data show Michigan ranks 42nd in births per 1,000 residents but 16th in deaths per thousand. So we’re doing better at longevity than reproductivity, and thus turning into a place that’s top heavy with older people.”

Allow me to add a couple more data points.  Michigan’s rank by age group:

Under 18 years – 25th

25 to 34 years – 47th

55 years and over – 16th

 Now, back to the article.

“And compounding the slow birthrate, “we’re just not attracting any young people,” said Metzger.

Well, why would we when the dominant hair color young people see around here is Grecian Formula? So OK, those are the hard, gray numbers. They create some stark choices.  We can’t just let the gray keep growing. We can’t hide it with Grecian Formula. We can decide that maybe we’re too old for serious change, but Michigan, turning 175 this month, cannot afford to be.”

The week that followed brought with it outrage from aging advocates across the region. While I was credited for a thorough analysis, Ron was lambasted for “implying that the older population is the source of our problem.”  Several comments that I came across were of a tone that I wouldn’t even place in my blog.

It was suggested that a forum be convened on the economic and social implications of the aging population, to discuss some of the facts and myths regarding the impact of the graying population.  Several years ago I participated in a similar event in Oakland County that was titled “The Silver Tsunami.”

I welcomed the opportunity to be a part of such a forum, both because I love to present the demographics and because it won’t be long till I join the Medicare Generation.  So here we are:

The Aging Services Consortium of Detroit will present a forum on “The Graying of Our Population” to be held at the Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation, 4750 Woodward, Detroit 48201 on February 8, 2012 from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. The panel will include Dr. Tom Jankowski of the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology, myself and Ron Dzwonkowski .

Come and join us.  It should be fun.