We know we’re lucky. We live in “God’s country,” as one retiree put it — and the secret’s out.
While Michigan overall is losing population, our region grows. Grand Traverse County added more than 5,000 residents, according to Census data released earlier this year.
We are aging, along with the rest of the country. But our silver tsunami is also growing — and while many of the people moving here are healthy, active retirees drawn to the abundant outdoor opportunities likes moths to a northern Michigan sunset, our system shows signs of strain.
And we should take those systemic growing pains as a warning, a catalyst to drive leaders in our region to begin thoughtful interventions.
The Area Agency on Aging has seen a tripling of work requests since the pandemic began, and even with higher wages, thousands of health care jobs in northwest Michigan are unstaffed.
All of us want to age with dignity, as it’s a sad state of affairs when there is no one available to help us bathe and get dressed.
Those who work in the industry are ringing alarm bells that we need to hear.
Unaffordable housing, high costs of living and a dearth of child care drives local and younger people out of the region when we need them to keep our community healthy.
But while these problems are shared by our country at large, we have an advantage right now that sets us apart, that makes us a good kind of “oddball.”
We are growing as we age. Our small town on the bay is awash with energy, expertise, creativity and investment. We have an opportunity to be forward-thinking and proactive. Attracting young families to our region is paramount — but they won’t come or stay unless we have the infrastructure and opportunity.
This is an imperative moment for thoughtful investment and intervention on a community-wide scale to address the shortcomings that will no doubt continue to amplify with further growth.
We need meaningful movement on affordable housing. Collaboration to address the day care catastrophe.
Training programs to ensure upward mobility that attracts new generations of workers.
All those pinch points and more have already cinched around our regional community, yet none of them is an insurmountable challenge for a region chock full of driven, ingenious people.
If we are short-sighted, if we merely use the energy to cash in without building out ahead, we will wither on the vine, as other northern Michigan communities have done before us.
We are living long enough to see how our decisions play out. Let ours combine age and wisdom to build a healthy, sustainable place where all ages can thrive.