Grand Haven Tribune: Olden years aren't golden for Michigan
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Olden years aren't golden for Michigan

• Jul 9, 2019 at 4:00 PM

In the race of life, one doesn't necessarily want to cross the finish line first.

Nor win the race to be the state with the highest number of counties where the median age is 50-plus.

But Michigan won the old, ahem gold, medal, according to U.S. Census numbers reported by Bridge Magazine last month.

Altogether, Michigan has 21 counties with a half-century median age (out of 83); the next closest state is Montana with 13 counties (out of 56) and Texas with 12 (out of 254).

Several counties in our coverage area top the list: Median age in Benzie County is 50 years old, Antrim County is 51.5 years old and Leelanau County weighs in at 54.6 years old.

Our comparative spring chickens are Kalkaska County at 44.2 years and Grand Traverse County at 43.1 years old.

This county measure is one piece of the picture — our state is 12th oldest overall, and has had stagnant population growth for 20 years.

But those preparing for Census 2020 say that this older drift is something to consider as we prepare for the days ahead — days that will likely include struggles to meet the needs of the aging; potential economic hardship and declining growth, according to the Detroit News.

Safety net systems are already starting to break amid increasing demand for services, said Heidi Gustine, the incoming executive director of the Traverse City-based nonprofit Area Agency on Aging of Northwestern Michigan.

"We're about to hit a tipping point," Gustine told the News.

Workforce is an issue, as aging communities get double slammed with both dwindling numbers of workers and growing health care staffing needs. Not having enough working-age people sets a "speed limit" for economic health and growth, said Xian Liu, research manager for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Luis also told the News that Michigan is experiencing a projected 25 percent decline in the K-12 school-age population.

Some communities are turning former schools into senior centers; others are trying to draw in entrepreneurs and families with better pay and jobs.

We are fortunate to already have smart, devoted people working on this issue in Grand Traverse County, and we're hopeful that lessons we learn can keep our communities healthy for years to come.

We need to involve the pros — our retirees — to tap into their wisdom. Because age and health are not mutually exclusive.

Our oldest area community is also the state's healthiest — Leelanau County, the reigning No. 1 health champion, according to the 2019 County Health Rankings Report.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE (AP)

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