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Muskegon, MI

Muskegon County lies about halfway up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, a one-hour drive northwest from Grand Rapids and a three-hour drive from Chicago. The city of Muskegon grew up around the fur and lumber trades, and later sprouted foundries and other manufacturing concerns. In the early 20th century, Muskegon was home to more millionaires than any other town in America.

Today the largest employers are the health care system, local government, and manufacturing firms including GE Aviation and Howmet Aerospace. Local higher education options include Baker College and Muskegon Community College. The county is a regional destination for summer tourists, who come to sail or visit its 27 miles of beaches – including Pere Marquette Beach, the largest free public beach on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan – and Michigan’s Adventure, the state’s largest amusement park.

Overall, community health metrics reflect unfavorable and unevenly distributed social assets. Muskegon Heights, which has a much higher percentage of poor and minority residents, is way behind. At the same time, racial equity is often an afterthought (despite official policies). County-wide, key health and well-being issues include obesity and diabetes, tobacco and drug use, limited access to healthy food, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), poor mental health – all exacerbated by and often due to racial inequity.

Works in Progress

Long-Term Goals

We originally came to Muskegon at the invitation of 1 in 21, a committee formed by the Muskegon Rotary Club in partnership with Muskegon County Public Health. That effort eventually disbanded, but many of its most active members continue to work on community health and long-term well-being. They include the Muskegon YMCA, Boys & Girls Club of the Lakeshore, Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, HealthWest, Access Health, and several groups catalyzed by the Livability Lab exercise that ran from 2019 to now.

One big question for Muskegon – and for Wellville and similar efforts more generally – is whether there’s a need for a formal collaborative in the community. Or is general collaboration good enough?

So far, there have been several amazing collaborations by organizations we consider our informal partners. (They stay in contact with us, seek our advice from time to time, and welcome introductions – including to people from their own community!).

Esther Dyson, Kaja Thornton-Hunter and Bruce Spoelman at The Us Cafe in Muskegon Heights.
Esther Dyson, Kaja Thornton-Hunter and Bruce Spoelman at The Us Cafe in Muskegon Heights.
Esther Dyson checks out the facilities at the childcare center operated by the local YMCA, in partnership with the local Goodwill.
Esther Dyson "tests" the tables at a new childcare center operated by the local YMCA in partnership with the local Goodwill.

Current Initiatives

Community health & job readiness: The United Way of the Lakeshore, led by Christine Robere and with its board chaired by Superintendent of Schools John Severson, is shifting towards longer-term thinking in its operations.

Their two big themes are improving mental health and fostering meaningful employment. In short, how can the community:

  • protect and improve the mental health of ourselves, our residents and our employees?
    train workers and new workforce entrants and help them to expand their skills?
  • remove barriers to employment, including lack of child (and elder) care, transportation and training opportunities, as well as unnecessary and exclusionary employment requirements?

The basic idea would be to fund longer-term, joint initiatives, reducing the incentive to compete and encouraging institutions to work together and enhance complementary capabilities. More money would go into the work and less into grant-writing.

Diabetes prevention: In partnership with Trinity Health, the Muskegon YMCA won part of a 5-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control to scale the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. To fuel the expansion, it has set up electronic referral systems for its physician partners at Mercy Health, Muskegon Family Care, Hackley Community Care and Affinia Health Network, among others. In addition, it is getting referrals from the local Walmart stores. This expansion will also enable help the program to achieve full CDC recognition and therefore become eligible for Medicare reimbursement.

Meanwhile, the Y has made lemonade from the COVID lemons, and is delivering the same programming (with different counselors) online through many  YMCAs throughout Michigan.

Resilience and trauma-informed care: Led by HealthWest, the Resilience Muskegon action team is in its third year. Its trauma-sensitive schools initiative runs quarterly professional learning events and a school leadership roundtable for its trauma-sensitive schools initiative. On May 31 it held ReCon: A Veteran’s Resilience Summit, with Dr. Vincent Felitti (co-principal investigator of the original ACEs study) as keynote speaker. The team also has ongoing efforts to train community members in ACEs and resilience. Future plans include trauma-sensitive organizational assessments and planning.

Our Stories

The Wellville Quadrant Chart: Looking Far and Looking Wide

At Wellville, we use our basic quadrant chart not so much to describe ourselves, but to explore the mindset shift we want to foster.   Our two axes are “short-term thinking” vs. “long-term thinking,” and “benefits just me” vs. “benefits all,” otherwise called “self-interest” vs. “shared interest.”

Read More »

Close the gap: Racial equity is fundamental to our health

There is so much in our hearts and minds following these tumultuous past few months and intense past few days. This is a moment to consider the causes of the consequences that are now on full display. It’s time to call out what led to such health disparities and what will it take to improve outcomes for all.

Read More »

By the Numbers

The data below represent an overall picture of health and wellbeing in Muskegon – a realtime snapshot, if you will. For data that’s tied to the specific work we’re doing, see above and in the stories we share. 


Population: 173,566

No Data Found

Land area (sq. mi): 499.25
Median age: 39.3

Social and Economic Indicators

Median household income

No Data Found

2019 data

Poverty rate

No Data Found

2019 data

High school graduation rate

No Data Found

2019 data

Severe housing problems *

No Data Found

* Percentage of households with at least 1 of 4 housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities, or lack of plumbing facilities (2013-2017).

Health Behaviors and Outcomes

Adult obesity

No Data Found

2017 data

Adult smoking

No Data Found

2018 data

Years of potential life lost *

No Data Found

* Years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population. Data covers 2017-2019.

Health Care

Uninsured *

No Data Found

* Persons under the age of 65 (2019 data)

Per capita Medicare spending *

No Data Found

* As a percentage of insured; does not include uninsured. Data from 2019.

Insurance sources

No Data Found

2019 data