Study: Michigan on Right Track

Posted on October 18, 2011

Foundations and private employers who are emphasizing education, a vital downtown Detroit and a shift away from manufacturing jobs to work that requires a college degree are moving Michigan in the right direction, according to a new study.

But state tax cuts that starve schools and cut aid to local governments hinder the effort to get Michigan back to full employment and high incomes.

Those are the latest findings from Ann Arbor-based Michigan Future Inc., a nonpartisan think tank that has argued for three years that Michigan must attract and retain more educated workers to restore prosperity.

Since the restructuring of the auto industry, the state has lost thousands of the high-paying jobs that once went to workers with high-school educations. Since 2000, per capita income in the state has dropped from 16th in the nation to 37th in 2009, which nearly matches the state’s position as 36th when it comes to college-educated workers.

“Michigan’s problem is that we’ve fallen to 37th in the country,” said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc.

According to the progress report released Monday, states with higher levels of educated workers also attract high-paying jobs in knowledge-based fields. These high-education industries were the only sectors of the U.S. economy to gain jobs between 2001 and 2009, the report said. During the recession, the U.S. lost 7 million jobs, mostly in low-education fields, while high-education sectors trimmed 546,000 jobs.

In Michigan, “this shift is the reality of the collapse of the auto industry,” Glazer said. “This is a human-capital-driven economy.”

The good news for Metro Detroit is that states with high levels of private-sector earnings all were anchored by large, dense metropolitan areas that attracted young, well-educated workers and the firms that need them.

“Michigan can’t work unless Metro Detroit works,” Glazer said. “A vibrant city center basically trumps everything.” Unfortunately, education and cities with high-functioning levels of city services “haven’t been priorities in Lansing,” as elected officials have worried more about cutting tax rates.

By Brian J. O’Connor, The Detroit News