Two recent migration studies grant dubious distinction to one Michigan city, ranking Kalamazoo tops in outbound migration, which is attributable in part to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s economic policies.

Kalamazoo’s distinction as “the fastest shrinking city in the nation” stems from a 24/7 Wall Street analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey for 43 metropolitan statistical areas with at least a 3% population decline from 2017 to 2022.

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The United Van Lines 47th Annual National Movers Study highlights where Americans are moving and why, with the overall trend towards the east and south driven by less expensive areas with comparable amenities to larger metropolitan areas in the Midwest.

“We are continuing to see the trend that Americans are moving to more affordable, lower-density areas across the country, with many heading to Southern states,” said Eily Cummings, United Van Lines’ vice president of communications. “Movers are also becoming more strategic with their planning, as relocation continues to be driven by factors such as the price of housing, regional climates, urban planning and job growth.”

Overall, Michigan ranked fifth for top outbound states for 2023, behind only New Jersey, Illinois, North Dakota, and New York.

“But one city has seen the biggest decline in population, not just in the state, but in the U.S.,” WKFR reports. “That city is Kalamazoo, MI.”

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The findings showed the Kalamazoo area lost 22.81% of its population, or about 77,165 residents, across the five-year time frame.

While neither United Van Lines nor 24/7 Wall Street get into the Michigan-specific reasons for the state’s outbound migration, it’s an issue others have attributed to policies enacted since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office.

Recent projections from the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics shows both outbound migration and deaths outpacing births by 2038 will complicate efforts by Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council to reverse the state’s declining population.

“Since Michigan is projected to maintain a trajectory of steepening natural decrease, in the near future population growth will depend entirely on Michigan maintaining net positive migration,” according to a MCDA report.

MCDA demographers contend once “natural decrease crosses -25,000 annually around 2034, it will become increasingly challenging for the state to maintain the annual level of net migration needed for population growth.”

A report from Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council released late last year found the state is “lagging in median income, educational outcomes, and attainment and have fallen behind faster-growing peer states in key measures of infrastructure, community well-being, and job opportunities.

“We are losing more young residents than we’re attracting, and our population is aging faster than those of our neighbors,” the report read.

Whitmer’s plan for reversing what the report describes as a “significant threat to our state’s future prosperity and well-being” relies heavily on increased government spending, and courting migrants pouring across the country’s southern border.

Those efforts are reflected in the governor’s $80.7 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 that aims to create a “free” preK-14 education system, and plenty of subsidies for “newcomers.”

Among the spending is $8 million dedicated to covering the legal fees for asylum-seekers. Other spending already approved in the current budget includes $738,000 to help integrate “newcomers” into Michigan communities, and millions in taxpayer-funded $500 monthly “newcomer” rental subsidies.

The spending and other programs funded by the New Michigander Fund run through the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity are focused on making Michigan “the state of choice for many newcomer populations,” according to a news release.

While Whitmer’s Democratic allies in the Legislature have embraced the governor’s approach to the state’s population problems, others who drive the state’s economy are calling for more collaboration to address the issue.

“The Chamber agrees that we need to work together to build a Michigan that is growing and flourishing,” read a Michigan Chamber of Commerce statement in response to GMTC recommendations. “It’s especially key to improve performance within our education and workforce development systems and to address our crumbling infrastructure; however, the Council’s report is light on important details, including costs and funding, and demands further dialogue and discussion to ensure solutions are affordable and can deliver on the promises.

“We cannot expect to grow Michigan’s population without stable and thriving employers generating good-paying jobs and opportunities,” according to the Chamber. “Ensuring our Great Lakes State is home to a favorable business climate and resilient economy must be at the heart of public debate as we work to create a stronger Michigan for all.”