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UM/think tank report says MI should focus on attracting high-wage, young workers

Satellite view of Michigan captured in August of 2010.
Jeff Schmaltz
NASA Image and Video Library
Satellite view of Michigan captured in August of 2010.

Michigan’s lagging population growth is due in part to the state’s failure to attract high-wage, younger workers. That’s according to a report prepared by the University of Michigan and the think tank Michigan Future.

The new report updates a similar study done 20 years ago. It says Michigan has faltered even more in per capita income and population growth since the original report. The report says Michigan now ranks 39th in per-capita income out of all 50 states – and well below neighboring Midwestern states.

The report says if that trajectory continues, Michigan will be the 48th poorest state per capita by 2045. The 2024 update suggests the key to fixing both problems is making Michigan a place that attracts younger, educated workers and entrepreneurs seeking bigger paychecks and a high quality of life.

“If you have large concentrations of college-educated adults, particularly young college-educated adults, they tend to be the people who do create new high-wage industries so that you do get the new industries started,” said Michigan Future President Lou Glazer.

The economists said that does not mean abandoning manufacturing -- there are many knowledge jobs that are associated with manufacturing including the areas of design, engineering and finance. They also said the state should continue to try to land manufacturing facilities, calling it “playing offense and defense.”

UM economist Donald Grimes said Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council was a good start. The council unveiled its report on the importance of growing Michigan’s population on December 14. But Grimes said that has to be a continuing operation if it is not to going wind up a futile exercise.

“How do we grow the population? How do we add people with college degrees?” he said. “And so make sure that that becomes a permanent focus and not just a one-year temporary effort.”

The Michigan Future report’s release was timed to coincide with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address this week.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network.