Murch: A demographic with the right green

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “There’s nothing to do here.” We’ve all heard this from kids about how there’s nothing to do in (fill in the name of a local community).

Now let’s flip the script and look at the other end of the spectrum. There is plenty to do for older adults. But those activities are changing and the demand is going to be shifting as well – and with that changing demand a need for there to be “something to do.”

The May/June edition of “The Review,” the magazine produced by the Michigan Municipal League, focuses on being able to handle our aging society in Michigan. The last of the baby boomers will hit 50 next year, and in Michigan 32.8 percent of the population is 50 with it estimated to be 36.8 percent when the last of the boomers hit 65 years old. Nearly one in four Michigan residents will be over the age of 50.

In a section the magazine called Crunching the Numbers, it states people 65 and older in Michigan have $37 billion in combined income. That’s a lot of spending power for seniors; extend it to those 50 and older and that is one desirable economic demographic.

Northeast Michigan is in many ways a retirement area. We have many people who retire to the area after spending their careers working elsewhere. When you put that on top of the people who spent their lives here and retired here, you can see, in part, how we got to this point.

There are other factors that shape a region’s demographics, including employment, educational opportunities and quality of life. And our region can support that by looking at how it has changed due to the loss of jobs.

Let’s look at the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 population estimates of our four counties for the opposite ends of the age spectrum and the overall change in the area.

  • 65 years and older: Alpena County 19.9 percent; Alcona County 32.4 percent; Montmorency County 27.6 percent; Presque Isle County 26.5 percent; Michigan 14.1 percent; United States 13.3 percent.
  • Under 18 years old: Alpena County 20.4 percent; Alcona County 14.4 percent; Montmorency 16.4 percent; Presque Isle County 17 percent; Michigan 23.2 percent; United States 23.7 percent.
  • Change in overall population from April 1, 2010-July 1, 2012: Alpena County -1.2 percent; Alcona County -2.8 percent; Montmorency County -3 percent; Presque Isle -1.8 percent; Michigan (small enough to not create a percentage); United States +1.7 percent.

So what does that mean to us? What does that mean to Northeast Michigan?

It’s a lot of numbers and those can be translated in a number of ways, depending on your argument and point of view. There also are lots of numbers missing from the middle. However, these numbers do provide us with a good picture of where we are heading.

We know the overwhelming reason our population has dropped is because of a lack of jobs, so long-term goals have to be to get those jobs that will bring full-time work to the area. These are the types of jobs that support families. But that is just a part of the equation.

Let’s go back to one number: $37 billion. A slice of that pie can make a big difference too. Short-term and long-term we have to appeal to those with the money – regardless if they are going to bring businesses to our area or just spend money in our area. If it’s green it’s going to spend and we shouldn’t be particular about whether the spender is 25, 45 or 65. In fact 65 probably spends more than 25.

Another crunched number: two-thirds of trips taken by those 65 and older are as passengers in private vehicles. They aren’t jetting around the country or globe. While there are times they are driving to other states, you know they are driving around the state.

Now it all boils down to having the things seniors find important in terms of quality of life for those who will live here, and desirable things for those who don’t live here to bring them to visit.

The numbers bear it out that this is a much sought-after demographic, even if it isn’t the “sexy,” hip demographic. Finding what is important to them and being able to fill it could go a long way in helping our area economically.

I guess you could say that 65 really is the new 50.Steve Murch can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5686. Follow Steve on Twitter at sm_alpenanews. Read his blog, Pardon, Me But … at