CHANGING FACES OF MANISTEE: Age of County’s population has been increasing

A family walks through the car show at Arcadia Days in 2018. (News Advocate File Photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a four part series examining the birth rate decline across the state, nation and in particular Manistee County and the many effects it has on the area. Today we look at the overall trend of birth rates. On Thursday, we will examine the issues families face when searching for housing, and the problem local businesses face finding qualified workers who live in the area.

MANISTEE COUNTY — What makes most communities successful is a diverse population — a mix of young and old alike.

The Manistee area, once a manufacturing community comprised of workers raising families, has turned into a community with a growing population of retirees and tourists.

Local leaders in the Manistee area are now working to attract younger generations, especially child bearing families.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.4 percent of Manistee County’s population at 24,528 in 2018 consisted of residents 65 years and older. Around 17.4 percent was below the age of 18 years. Manistee County’s median age in 2017, at a population of 24,427, was estimated at 49.5 years.

In 2017, 14,680 of Manistee County residents were 40 years and older; 4,764 were 19 years and younger; and 4,983 were between 20 and 39 years of age.

“Bringing younger people (to Manistee) is important,” said Manistee mayor Roger Zielinski, a long-time resident and local leader. “We need to make it a place that they want to be. It’s important, to me personally, and I am willing to make sacrifices for future generations. We need to set that up for their future to be better.”

However, an aging population that is not being replaced by younger generations is not unique to the Manistee area — it’s a national issue.

This graph, displaying data from a U.S. Census Bureau study, shows the percentage of people in various age groups of Manistee County’s 2017 estimated population. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

GROWING TREND

Statewide, recent data shows that families are not having as many children as generations before, while some are not becoming parents at all.

In Michigan, 111,507 births were recorded in 2017, which is a 1.6 percent drop from 2016 and the lowest number of births since 1941. Michigan’s birth rate, at 11.2 births per 1,000 residents, is comparable to the nation’s birth rate at 11.8.

Manistee’s total number of births, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), was recorded at 270 in 2000 and dropping to 210 in 2017 — a 22 percent difference. The birth rate is currently recorded at 8.6 births per 1,000 residents.

While the decline in births impacts the Manistee area, it’s not clear whether younger generations are postponing parenthood, moving out of the area or forgoing parenthood altogether.

If the trends continue, experts say there could be labor shortages among many other hard-hitting impacts.

Stacie Bytwork, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce president, said bringing young professionals and

This graph, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows the number of live births in Manistee County from 2011 to 2017. Trends show a decline after 2012, and another dip after 2016.(Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

families to Manistee is a primary concern of the Chamber and its economic development initiative.

“The need to bring families and professionals to the area is important and vital to the success of our economy,” Bytwork said. “The Chamber of Commerce is striving to drive positive change and growth in the area, with a focus of growing the number of businesses, keeping talent here and attracting talent from elsewhere, while increasing the number of living wage jobs.”

However, data shows that one reason birth rates are nationally declining is due to women waiting longer to have children. The national average for first-time mothers is 26 years old, according to the MDHHS.

In Michigan, births to women ages 20 to 24 years are down 43 percent, while teen births dropped from over 20,500 to 5,000 since 1990.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

The birth decline and deceasing population of youth in Manistee County has impacted local businesses.

At the end of May, Munson Healthcare Manistee Hospital closed its maternity unit. Concerning many residents in the area, one major impact was the loss of around 15 jobs within both the hospital and clinic.

Julie Mueller, spokesperson for Manistee Hospital, said the hospital suffered a loss of $750,000 in obstetrics services in fiscal year 2018.

“The low birth rate in our region was one of the primary factors in the closure of Manistee Hospital’s OB unit,” Mueller said. “Operating a maternity unit involves a large overhead cost, which the reimbursement for care doesn’t begin to cover.

“With the continuing downward trend in birth rates and departure of an OB physician, we estimated Manistee Hospital would have only 90 deliveries in the next fiscal year, which would translate to a loss of about $1.2 million.”

In 2015, the hospital reported as many as 191 births, while in 2018 there were 186. Mueller said they estimate around 147 births in 2019.

“While closing the OB unit was not an easy decision, it was necessary to ensure the hospital remains in a strong financial position to continue to provide vital services to the community,” she said.

However, the issue is not only impacting Manistee’s hospital, but others in the region as well. Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort discontinued its maternity unit in the 1980s.

Compared to 2018 — during the first six months of fiscal year 2019 — Mueller said Manistee Hospital had a 12 percent decrease in deliveries, Munson Medical Center in Traverse City decreased by 10 percent, and Cadillac Hospital’s deliveries were down 7 percent.

“The Munson Healthcare system as a whole has seen a decline in births,” Mueller said. “The six Munson-owned facilities with OB  performed about 3,400 deliveries in fiscal year 2018. Our experts project there will be fewer than 3,000 this year.”

MOVING FORWARD 

Local officials are well aware of this growing trend, and are honing in on economic development efforts to attract younger generations and growing families to the Manistee area.

“The decisions that I make are not for me, they are for future generations – we are talking four, five or six generations ahead,” Zielinski said. “We need to understand what the current generation needs.”

When it comes to developing a diverse population, Zielinski said Manistee, similar to other neighboring communities, is facing a large hurdle.

“When I got on city council and started looking at how we have been moving forward, I decided that we needed to go in a different direction,” he said. “That’s not to reflect badly on councils of the past, but I just look at it differently.

“I look at other communities and how they are moving forward and what they are doing. We need to do some of the same.”

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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