Falling Berrien County Population Emphasizes Critical Need for 2020 Census Accuracy

Sobering news this morning from the U.S. Census Bureau makes it increasingly crystal clear why we all need to get after the task of returning our census survey in a timely manner across Michigan’s Great Southwest. While we are sequestered in the current shelter-in-place order it is more critical than ever that we return the census survey for 2020 because our population is sagging once again.

The U.S. Census Bureau has released the 2019 Population Estimates for counties and CBSAs, and of the 15 major labor markets in Michigan, only three fared worse than Berrien County, which is called for federal purposes the Niles-Benton Harbor Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA.

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released the “vintage 2019 county and metropolitan population estimates.” Those estimates add 2019 to the estimate series and recalculate the previous estimates released since the most recent decennial census in 2010.

Berrien County has a new official population count of 153,401 people. That’s a decrease in population of 2.2-percent since 2010. That’s down an additional 730 from last year’s estimated 154,131. Berrien’s population has drifted lower every year since 2011, which saw a slight increase from the official 2010 census. Neighboring Cass County has seen small increases each year for the last three, but the 2019 total was not available. Van Buren County saw slight increases each year since 2015, but 2019 data was not available today.

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Cornerstone Alliance President & CEO Rob Cleveland, whose team established the ambitious goal to increase the population of Berrien County by 10-percent over the next 10 years says this morning, “The recent population estimates released this week are the perfect time to remind everyone how important it is to be counted – and to fill out your census form.”

He makes that appeal not just so they can attain the goal, reminding everyone, “There are so many Federal and State programs that are based on population, and I encourage everyone to go online and fill out your census.” He also reminds us, “The population estimates are also the driving force behind programs like Vacay Every Day.”  That is the Cornerstone Alliance community-based initiative that has become a full frontal assault to stem the tide of population decline. 

Cleveland says, “We need more people in Berrien County, and we need more people in the State of Michigan. We have some of the most successful companies in the world, right here in Berrien County, but if those companies are unable to recruit the high-skill, high-wage talent they need in order to be successful, it makes it more likely that they will leave. That’s why we are taking a holistic approach to our work, and partnering with others in the community to make Southwest Michigan the preferred place to live, work and relax.”

Since 2010 the populations of only thirteen counties in Michigan have grown by at least three percent.

Only two of those counties were not in southern Michigan, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska. The counties with the largest percent increase in population were:

  • Ottawa with a 10.6-percent increase
  • Kent with a 9.0-percent increase
  • Grand Traverse with a 7.0-percent increase

Those counties all experienced natural increase (i.e., more births than deaths), particularly Kent and Ottawa, and large gains in population through migration as well.

On the other hand, most of the thirty counties experiencing population declines of at least 3-percent were in the Thumb area or Northern Michigan.

Exceptions were Wayne and Genesee counties, which experienced losses of population due to migration.

By percent, the three counties with the sharpest downturns in population were all in the western Upper Peninsula. The populations of Ontonagon, Gogebic, and Baraga counties were reduced by 15.6, 14.9,  and 7.4-percent from 2010–2019, respectively. Those counties have all had long-term negative natural change and net out-migration.

Population Change in Michigan’s Metropolitan Areas

The Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo regions experienced the largest population expansion since 2010 among Michigan metro areas. Those areas all had two things in common: positive natural population change and positive net migration. Whereas the Detroit metro area is still by far the largest metropolitan area in the state, it experienced a very modest 0.5-percent growth in population. While the Detroit metro area saw more births than deaths, on net it suffered about a 61,000-person population loss due to migration, which limited overall population growth.

Metro areas suffering the sharpest percentage decline in their population base were the Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint regions. Although the Saginaw and Flint metro areas had small natural increases, their net negative migration overwhelmed those gains. Bay City had both negative natural population change and net out-migration.

These estimates are available through the U.S. Census Bureau and are available on their population estimates page. Data on a wide variety of topics are also linked directly from the state’s website at this link: http://www.milmi.org/population