Prosperity in Michigan: What Do We Need for the Climb?

December 3, 2013 – Kurt Metzger is perhaps the most experienced demographer in Michigan.  He is currently the director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, an initiative of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.  I mention him because he published an article recently in Bridge Magazine, Michigan still has a long climb back to prosperity, that illustrates in data what we all know to be true:  Michigan has been through a tough decade or so economically, and while some folks are starting to do better, the bulk of Michigander’s have not yet started that climb.  Michigan is a starkly different state than we were a dozen years ago, and nowhere is this more evident than in the disinvestment of state resources in programs supporting the most challenged children, youth and families over that same period.

In addition, economists at the UofM and elsewhere are predicting above average job growth over the next two years AND increasing money in the state coffers as a result.

So, if we are indeed beginning the slow trek back to economic prosperity, let’s be deliberate about assessing how the trek is going so far, and what we need to do as a state in this next budget year to aid us on the climb.  What do we know:

  1. We’ve lost ground.  Kurt points out, is that Michigan ranked 37th in per capita income in 2012, and was one of only three states who lost ground in that indicator from 2000 – 2012.
  2. Economic downturns are tougher on folks with less education.  Kurt also points out that Michigan has traditionally made a poor showing in that area as well – ranking 31st on the share of young adults (ages 25-34) with at least a bachelor’s degree.  In addition, according to the U.S. Census, we remain right around the national average in the share of young adults in that same age range without a high school diploma – around 10%.
  3. A well educated citizenry is the path toward economic success.  Yes, this point is well researched by many and embraced widely.
  4. The educational success of parents is a strong predictor of the educational success of their children.  If nothing else, parents who have had less educational success themselves, are on less stable economic ground and often have a more difficult time interfacing with systems serving themselves and their children, including the schools and other providers of services that could assist.
  5. Unacceptably high shares of new moms do not have adequate education levels themselves.  You may recall from the release of the Right Start in Michigan last spring that fully 4 in 10 moms of Michigan newborns in 2011 had no college education, and more than a third of those didn’t even have a high school credential.

With these facts in mind, what do Legislators need to do include in their budget priorities as we move into 2014 in order for Michigan to have what we need as a state for our climb toward economic prosperity?

  1. Get kids through to high school graduation the first time.  Michigan’s Children blogs consistently about what the research says are investments needed to be able to do this better, including investments in challenged families well before children enter kindergarten, solid connections between home and school throughout the child’s educational career, consistent opportunities for extended learning programs to assist in skill development and engagement, and 2nd and 3rd (4th and 5th…) chances to reach that high school diploma, just to name a few.
  2. Provide opportunities for adults to reconnect to GED and post-secondary paths throughout their lives.  Target these opportunities for young mothers and fathers.

The Governor is working on his recommendations for the upcoming budget season right now.  We’ve had a mixed record of investment and disinvestment in programs and initiatives that matter to our state’s success.  Now is the time for us all to get real about what it takes to improve economic prosperity in Michigan and share that knowledge with policymakers.

-Michele Corey