The population in Southwest Michigan continues to drop, led by Berrien County.

Kinexus Group has been reviewing the Annual Estimate of the Resident Population report released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week, and it shows in 2023, Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties shrank by 0.1%, or lost 280 residents.

Kinexus data resource manager Ryan Thyfault tells us Van Buren and Cass counties actually saw their populations increase slightly, but the losses in Berrien County brought the region down. What’s happening?

Two key factors are that we have an older than average population, so deaths generally outpace births, which leads to a negative natural change,” Thyfault said. “Another key factor is that many younger residents leave the region for schooling or job opportunities.”

Thyfault says Cass and Van Buren counties have had more deaths than births, but they’re attracting more new residents.

Cass and Van Buren counties are increasingly becoming bedroom communities for those working in the nearby Elkhart, Kalamazoo, and South Bend metros. Berrien doesn’t benefit from this proximity. Also, home prices in Cass County are generally lower than in Berrien County, so it makes it a more attractive option for homebuyers.”

Thyfault says Berrien County’s population losses have been the 7th largest out of all 83 Michigan counties since 2020. Since then, the three-county region’s population has shrunk by 0.6% with the loss of 1,799 residents.

Thyfault says the region needs to provide more educational and professional opportunities to attract new residents.

Meanwhile, he says Michigan’s population last year was flat with a very slight increase in residents.