By Carol Stiffler

Where did you live on April 1, 2020? The U.S. Census Bureau asked that question last year, for its most recent census survey, and the results for Luce County indicate a massive loss in population.

In short: The numbers may not be correct.

The United States posted a 7.4% increase in population, with a precise figure of 331,449,281 residents. Michigan posted a 1.96% increase, with a new total population of 10,077,331.

The situation in Luce County was much different. Luce County’s numbers showed a 19.5% drop in population, with a new total of 5,634 residents – down from 6,631 in 2010.

Columbus Township fell by 35 residents to 169. Lakefield Township gained 74 residents, with a new total of 1,135. McMillan Township, where Newberry sits, lost 221 people, and now has a new population of 2,471.

The greatest fall by far was reported in Pentland Township numbers, where the population fell by nearly half. The census indicated a loss of 1,110 people in Pentland Township over the past 10 years.

Can it be true? Pentland Township Clerk Greg Rathje doesn’t think so.

“We haven’t seen that decline,” Rathje said.

Rathje said the number of registered voters in Pentland Township actually posted a slight increase over the past eight years, indicating the population has been stable.

The dramatic drop, bringing the township’s reported population to 1,564, is almost precisely the size of the maximum capacity of the Newberry Correctional Facility. The prison can hold a maximum of 1,104 inmates, and has often been close to full capacity.

A look into the 2020 census data for Pentland Township, done with help from journalistic colleagues at Bridge Michigan, shows there were 0 residents listed as living in group settings – prisons, nursing homes, or juvenilehomes – in Pentland Township. That shouldn’t be possible.

As it stands, the reported loss has an immediate impact on the township, Rathje said, which will receive tens of thousands fewer dollars from the state. Michigan divides its 6% sales tax amongst the state’s governing bodies, according to population.

The reduced population will also cause a shift in district lines among the Luce County Commission, which must have five voting districts of equal size.

No matter how many people Luce County truly lost, the commissioner districts are going to change.

So what really happened in Pentland Township over the past 10 years? Probably nothing quite so dramatic, though the township does not keep a running tally of its population.

Considering that McMillan and Pentland townships are intricately linked by geographic location and the village of Newberry, it’s possible they fared similarly over the past 10 years.

McMillan Township, with a loss of 221 people, lost 8.2% of its population. If Pentland Township also lost 8.2%, or 128 people, it would adjust the total loss within Luce County down to 295 people, or 5.2%.

That loss is on par with Schoolcraft County, which lost 5.2%, Keweenaw County (-5.1%), and slightly greater than Chippewa County (-4.5). Mackinac County lost 2.5%, and Alger County lost 7.9%.