Upper Peninsula population plummets. One family’s struggle shows why.

froheip picnic

Dave and Sherri Frohriep think it’s time to leave their Luce County home in the Upper Peninsula, where good jobs and opportunities for their growing children are scarce. (Photo by Al Lilly)

Where are all the Yoopers going?

Since 2010, 14 of the 15 counties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have lost population. One of every eight people who lived in Ontonagon County in 2010 are now gone. Check out how your county’s population trend compares.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

LUCE COUNTY – The calls from his sister are the hardest.

“She lives in Mobile, Alabama,” said Dave Frohriep. “She’s putting pictures on Facebook all the time of them out playing in the sand, and out fishing, and their house is beautiful and they’re always going out to dinner, going out to movies.

“They have the life we used to have.”

Dave, 40 and his wife Sherri Frohriep, 46, live in rural Luce County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They’ve been unemployed for more than a year. Their electricity was turned off for a few weeks this summer.

“We used to be able to say, let’s go to a movie, and not worry about whether we had the money for it,” Dave Frohriep said. “Now we’re the lowest we’ve ever been, it just feels like it’s going to get worse.”

With no jobs for them and few opportunities for their teen-aged children, the Frohrieps are thinking of leaving Michigan.

“Michigan has definitely been left behind,” Dave Frohriep said. “I think we can make a better life somewhere else.”

RELATED: Poverty in paradise.

The Upper Peninsula is losing population at a startling rate. Since 2010, 14 of the U.P.’s 15 counties suffered population declines. Ontonagon County near the Wisconsin border lost one in eight residents since 2010, and one in every four residents since 2000.

The U.P. has always been sparsely populated, but the number of permanent residents remained fairly steady from 1930 to 2010. The 2016 total population estimate of 302,981 is the lowest since the beginning of the 20th century.

The population decline is a result of an aging population and a struggle to maintain and attract good jobs to the beautiful but isolated region, said Caralee Swanberg of the Lake Superior Community Partnership, the economic development agency for Marquette, Dickinson and Baraga Counties.

“The economy here has always been a sticks and stones economy – timber and mining,” Swanberg said. When those industries are in a downturn (such as with the recent closing of the Empire Mine, in Marquette County), the U.P. economy suffers.

The region, which has one third of the state’s land but only 3 percent of its population, has trouble keeping its young adults. Many leave for college, and even if they want to make a life in the U.P., there are few jobs for those with degrees. “We have trouble retaining the 25-40 (year-olds),” Swanberg said.

The UP’s unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in July, compared to 3.7 percent for the state of Michigan as a whole. State officials acknowledge that those numbers are suppressed by a large number of residents who have simply given up on finding jobs.

RELATED: Michigan’s incredible shrinking workforce.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation offers economic incentives for companies based in the Upper Peninsula to expand. “It’s easier to retain a company than attract a company,” Swanberg said.

Luce County, where the Frohrieps live, lost 4 percent of its population since 2010.

The Frohrieps are participating in a year-long project following families with different political views from different parts of the state, to try to better understand the bubbles in which many of us live.

You can read more about “Michigan Divided” here, and about the Frohrieps here.

RELATED: Michigan Divided: Searching for common ground in uncommon times

Those in comfortable jobs in the Lower Peninsula who visit the U.P. for vacations “don’t have a clue” about how tough life can be for year-round residents, said Sherri Frohriep.

“We used to have a fair that came to Newberry every spring, now it’s gone,” Sherri Frohriep said. “The bowling alley closed. The movie theatre is hanging on by a thread. You have to drive 60 miles to buy anything.”

“The tourists are taken care of a hell of a lot better than the residents,” Dave Frohriep said. “Things are dying here.”

RELATED: Down and out in purest Michigan.

So, the family is looking at its options. Sherri has family in Kentucky who can give them a place to stay until they get settled. They can do the same in Alabama with Dave’s sister, the life Dave described as a “fantasy world” compared to the U.P.

“I don’t ask for much. I could be in the middle of the woods, in a little shack, as long as I had a job and could make my rent, I’d be happy,” Dave Frohriep said. “But you’ve got to have something.

“We’re probably going to go,” he said. “There’s nothing here for us.”

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Thu, 08/31/2017 - 9:02am

This is a very shallow piece. While the UP as a whole is losing people from all the normal reasons (lack of jobs, aging population, etc) there are areas thriving such as the cities of Marquette and Houghton for example. The real story is why these and a few others are doing so well and how can that success be cloned elsewhere.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 10:30am

Marquette and Houghton have state universities and regional medical centers that bring hundreds of millions of dollars into those communities. That's not something you can clone.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 3:11pm

That is in part my point....communities with education based industries (medical/university/etc.) will find ways to succeed....those that don't will die. But you can examine why and how communities succeed....and it isn't just because there is a papermill or iron mine....and that is the type of journalism I expect from Bridge...

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 11:43am

Last article I read about Marquette wasn't very positive. Since the closing of the air base, crime and drugs have seen a huge increase.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 1:49pm

The KI Sawyer Air Force Base closed in 1995. There was definitely a slump after it's closure, but rampant crime and drugs 25 years later because of a base closure, I don't think so.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 12:47am

Then why the rampant drugs?

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 3:05pm

Marquette was just named one of the top 20 college towns for safety....( I think US Today)...

David Waymire
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 5:34pm

Karl, get in your car and take a little trip to Marquette. You will find it a very enjoyable community, with vibrant downtown, nice restaurants and coffee shops, new construction going up around (I believe) a new hospital building, banking and insurance jobs. I have been there twice in the last year, and look forward to another visit.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 6:34pm

Marquette is truly lovely.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 12:50am

I expect that Karl is referring to outlying areas in the County that are experiencing high rates of Meth, other drugs and crime.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 9:23am

While tax cuts certainly are not to blame for the U.P.'s economic downturn, the safety nets that they funded are no longer available. Business tax cuts were promised to spur economic growth. A "right to work" law was supposed to spur economic growth and more jobs. All of those promises by Mr. Snyder about getting Michigan back on the right jobs path are now a distant memory. Lansing is now a lot farther away from the Upper Peninsula than it once was.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 7:26am

Take your blinders off lefty.
Prior to Synder Michigan was a one state recession.
Not a fan of everything Synder does, and nobody with critical thinking skills should be lockstep with any politician, but he has made the economy of Michigan far stronger than when he entered office

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 6:08pm

Actually, our recovery has been less successful than similar surrounding states despite having the benefit of the recovery of the national economy and the recovery of the auto industry, the foundation of the Michigan economy for 100 years. Neither was the result of policies of the current administration. The Michigan economy is stronger than when Snyder took office, but I don't see how he is responsible for it.

Andy Po
Sat, 09/02/2017 - 10:27pm

Do you give Obama any credit for saving the auto industry and all it's related jobs?
Or did you prefer Romney's idea of letting it go belly up?

Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 9:58am

Much of American history is the movement of people from areas of little promise or diminished resources to places of greater hope. This practice is simply continuing today in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a trend that is unlikely to abate or stabilize anytime soon as the region comes into equilibrium with its human carrying capacity.

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 10:42am

Yes, but the critical part to remember is that the little promise vs. greater hope of any State is never written in stone, but rather depends on the the people of any given State: their drive, inventiveness, entrepreneurial spirit/willingness to invest & take risk, and perseverance at all of this.

While places like Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Ferndale, Royal Oak, and the new core of Detroit all have this increasingly going for them, most of the rest of the State doesn't, nor does it realize life doesn't sit still or stay the same. You must constantly adapt or fail. Many other areas of this nation never had anything so easy as the auto industry, so they already know from hard knocks what the sleepy conservative areas of Michigan have long-since forgotten.

Steve Thorpe
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 10:40am

I spend a lot of time in the UP and occasionally find myself thinking back to when the interstate system was created and the decision was made not to have an east/west interstate in the UP. Part of me -- the backpacking, kayaking, hunting, fishing part -- is grateful for that decision. But the trade off was economic. I know there was a chicken or egg argument to a certain extent at the time. Not enough population to justify it. But I do think that decision has echoed down through the decades and hurt business prospects.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 3:24pm

US 2 is now 65 mph from the bridge to Gladstone. M-28 is also 65 mph through the Seney stretch and beyond, and speed limits are being increased on several other UP highways. Even before this change, one could still drive 60+ throughout most of the UP without worrying about getting a ticket. The biggest worry is hitting a deer, and an interstate highway isn't going to fix that. We don't have enough traffic to justify an interstate, nor do most of us want one. A few more passing lanes in strategic locations would help, but otherwise we are in pretty good shape.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 6:31pm

US2 is only 65mph from Rapid river to Eskie lol
Get your facts straight.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 10:32am

That's wrong because I live there and drive threw it, 55mph, daily ;)

Mom'n Pop
Fri, 09/01/2017 - 10:36am

They aren't posted yet for 2 or 28 if this is the case in the future, maybe. But I live there and drive those roads both very frequently, and they both are posted 55mph, other than the stretch from Rapid arapids to Escanaba as Yooper stated above.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 9:36am

Okay, so are they shifting back and forth or what? Because I live in the U.P. and the whole stretch definitely was 65 at least from Gould City (that's about where I started on the west) to St. Ignace when I drove downstate in mid-July.

Post-Truth Era indeed...

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 2:48pm

I drove highway 2 from st ignats to rapid river last week and its posted 65. Yooper needs to get out in the big world more often.

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 10:35pm

Yes, I drove to the Escanaba fair and it was 65 all the way from Engadine to Gladstone for sure.

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 1:32pm

Yes it's recently switched to 65 down the whole stretch.... Look it up. It was on the news too!

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 10:58am

They could consider moving to West Michigan, where the economy is much better and they could still enjoy the Great Lakes. I know several people who have moved here from the U.P.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 7:31am

There are good jobs for those willing to work.
Sadly willing to work isn't a strong suite of the American youth anymore.
I am in sales and cover the state. Most of my contractors do not have enough man power and cannot find willing workers.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 6:02pm


Tue, 09/05/2017 - 6:30pm

No, it is harder than ever to find people to kill themselves for slave wages.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 12:10pm

I retired from the US Air Force in 1992 and moved from San Antonio to Marquette. I liked the City's size and it's potential. We have a university, a regional hospital, a beautiful shoreline, a downtown that looks like a downtown, and a whole lot of folks that volunteer their time to make things better. This year our university's freshmen enrollment is up, a new hospital is under construction, and a gas fired power plant is being built. We're looking forward, not backward.

Jay Rowe
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 2:59pm

Love Marquette, love Hancock where we live. QUit a job as chief engineer at Scott Paper of Marinette Wisconsin. To move home to Copper Country 45 years ago. CHanged careers, but soon realized that if you can't get a job in the governments, universities, K-12, you end up " sucking saltwater ". FOrtunate I was a person who could stand on my own, I made a great living in paradise raising 3 sons. Needed to have wife work. Tell my grandchildren to head South as not much future here. Sad.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 9:40am

Don't forget hospital jobs, the largest employers in many U.P. counties (for now, at least!).

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 2:39pm

It is unfortunate that these folks are having such a hard time but it isn't anyone's fault that there are no jobs in a remote area. Coal miners in W. Virginia are in the same situation. Should tourists who are well taken care of there not come and spend their money?

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 3:13pm

We're transplants to the U.P. We've found there's plenty of work if you're willing to work. But don't expect to make high wages. Many employers can't find good help.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 7:33am

Willing to work is the key.
Hard working, consciousness people are a rare commodity these days

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 6:04pm

True. It is Called ......*WORK Ethic* which unfortunately many are lacking here.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 9:44am

Funny, because in discussions of the U.P.'s strengths (SWOT analyses) I have been involved with, work ethic usually ends up on the list. Not sure whether I agree.

Ability of potential hires to pass drug tests is a major problem in many industries.

Texas Yooper
Tue, 09/05/2017 - 7:32pm

The work ethics of the 20-30 year olds nationwide is nothing like it was 50 years ago...this generation wants top pay for a starting position...they want a paycheck with no Blood Sweat and Tears...that's most of the problem with this Entitlement Generation...they want everything for free...there are plenty of steady jobs out there...they might not pay what you want...but they're out there... If you want more...then you may have to move south...jmho

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 3:19pm

I've lived in the UP for over 30 years. It's a tough deal finding work and being able to afford driving 20-45 minutes to get there. I'm from a small town and I don't know 1/2 of the people now. There's definitely a huge number of "transplants" who have flocked to the southern UP because of cheap housing. This has also brought crime such as drug trafficing, drug abuse and property damage. The opposition to mining has also hurt potential job growth. I make a good living but if I were to lose my current job I would most certainly have to move out of the area due to a major lack of options. I love the UP but it is changing rapidly.

Ken colmer
Thu, 08/31/2017 - 5:01pm

Dave and sherri. I lived in new berry and Gilbert for number of years I now live in hazard Kentucky and am doing well. I love the u.p I love Michigan . My kids still all live there. I do not miss the winters that's for sure I do not miss the mosquitoes hardly any here. I do not regret leaving there. I miss my kids. My dad is in the process of selling his 2 properties up there as well and moving here in Kentucky after he visited. The cost of living is so much less and the taxes are not even comparable this is a great state but so is bama. Wish u both the best but once u leave u will not regret it. U will miss it but u won't regret it especially for your children.

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 1:35pm

I absolutely agree!! I absolutely love Michigan and its beauty...I can't wait to visit, but I'm so happy that I moved from there!!!

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 7:19pm

The taxes here are 2.5 times higher than the taxes of other states I've lived in. The electricity is 2 X the price of everywhere else. The water is 4 times more expensive. The tabs on the cars are 2 X higher. And they wonder why people are having troubles.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 7:35am

Why is water so much more?!
I have a well and specifically bought my place becuase of it.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 9:48am

Water fees widely vary from one community to the next based on age and condition of the system, user base, financing that has been obtained from other sources to construct/maintain it, historical practices of managing it, etc.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 12:40am

We are leaving Michigan, where we have both lived all our lives, because our tax dollars are not used to improve infrastructure, our voices are not heard, and business interests are king. Our gerrymandered legislature serves their buyers and the citizens and workers have no voice.

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 7:37am

Don't worry Connie your vote will still get cast for your democrat candidate when your gone......LOL

Mary Thibodeau
Fri, 09/01/2017 - 8:29am

I am a Yooper by birth and LOVE everything about the Upper Peninsula, but the reality is that you MUST go where the jobs are, period!

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 9:23am

I agree that the Upper Peninsula has been experiencing population declines, and adding to that is a change in demographics of those that have remained and those that are relocating here. We are seeing an older population concentration and fewer in the workforce demographic. However, that does not directly correlate to the availability of jobs. If you look at Pure Michigan Talent Connect website and the job openings posted for Newberry specifically, you will see quite a number of jobs available and a wide range of occupations. This is the case for most of the Upper Peninsula. If you talk to businesses, you will hear quite a different perspective than that represented in this article. We also have growth potential that is on the cusp of creating more traditional UP jobs in mining and manufacturing. The Upper Peninsula has a new initiative in InvestUP, which is focused on attracting business and talent to the U.P. There is much more optimism that lives here than the doom and gloom this article is portraying.

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 10:10am

As I just commented on the main article for the population change map:

The statistical methods here are flawed - this is comparing 2010 Decennial Census data to 2016 American Community Survey. They are completely different data sources that are calculated much differently (actual count vs. sampling, respectively).

Not that it changes the overall trend much: The U.P. picks up one more county gaining population (Houghton), but minimally so.