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Upper Michigan’s Population Dwindles Despite “Sustainable” Tourism Economy

Mining opponents often talk about tourism as a “sustainable” form of economic activity. However, based on the fact that the population of Upper Michigan continues to decline, the so-called “sustainable economy” is clearly not doing enough to sustain families and businesses in the region.

Upper Michigan’s population dropped in 13 of the U.P.’s 15 counties in 2016, continuing a slide that began in 2000, according to Census Bureau estimates released in March. The U.P.’s population has fallen 4.4 percent from 2000 through the current 2016 estimate of 303,181.

Gogebic County, a county on the border of Wisconsin, has seen a population decline of more than 6 percent since 2010 — the most in the state. More than 40 percent of the population decline was due to migration, according to a study by 24/7 Wallstreet. Additionally, the 2017 unemployment in Gogebic County was topped 6 percent, higher than the state average of 4.6 percent. This means Gogebic County lost a larger share of its population in 2016 than Wayne County, the home of Detroit, which has been hemorrhaging residents for decades.

Studies that claim mining will result in population loss in Northern Minnesota often trumpet tourism and the recreation economy as a means of promoting a “sustainable” economic growth. It seems these analyses ignore the fact that tourism and recreation alone are not enough to sustain the population of Upper Michigan.

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