Panel: Michigan needs to act with urgency as population slides
- A report forecasting Michigan’s population losses and subsequent economic fallout was released Tuesday
- The first public event to discuss what the state needs to do to reverse track was a panel discussion hosted in part by Bridge Michigan
- Solutions require 'bold, explicit action,' one of the report’s funder said at the event
Michigan needs consistent policy to turn around five decades of population losses that now threaten to further reduce its competitiveness with other states and limit economic opportunities — and, as a result, prosperity — here for generations to come.
That’s the conclusion of a new report released Tuesday by Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC), which focuses on the state’s public policy, and Altarum, a Michigan-based nonprofit focusing on health. The report paints a portrait of a state struggling to respond to a slow-moving crisis, according to reporting on it by Bridge Michigan this week.
Altarum, the CRC and Bridge hosted an online panel discussion on the report on Tuesday, with five panelists of experts in policy, government, equity and education, highlighting concerns and possible solutions.
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Neal Hegarty, vice president of programs for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, one of the funders of the research, opened the program by saying that the state’s challenges — from the economy, education and infrastructure — are not insurmountable.
However, Hegarty said, they require “bold, explicit action.”
The report is intended to start a broad conversation to reverse the state’s slide in population and build prosperity, he said. The report found that political divisiveness either stalled progress or led to ideas being abandoned before they could yield results, but Hegarty and the 10 additional nonprofits who funded the effort are urging officials and other leaders to act with urgency.
Otherwise, Hegarty said, “Michigan’s ability to stay competitive in comparison to other states is in jeopardy.”
The problem starts with population loss, but extends throughout the economy and residents’ quality of life. Births are plummeting and deaths are rising. More people move from the state every year than residents of other states move in. Every other state in the Midwest is growing faster, while jobs that pay middle class wages and above increasingly require higher education. Earnings, housing values, tax revenue and services in coming years all will decline without changes, the researchers found.
Panelists on Tuesday discussed the broad range of challenges, which moderator Ron French, associate editor at Bridge Michigan, noted are interconnected and require attention across all of them, even as much of the focus was on education.
“You can’t just decide you’re going to invest a lot more money in schools and it’s going to fix the problem on its own,” French said.
Panelists included Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, Gabe Rodriguez-Garriga, vice president for strategy at Business Leaders for Michigan, Susan Corbin, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Jalonne White-Newsome , senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Frank Ettawageshik, executive director of United Tribes of Michigan.
Ani Turner, a researcher at Altarum who worked on the report, noted that a recent small increase in the state’s population belies how “all of the growth is really coming from the population of the retirement age, age 65 and older.”
Then, by 2050, Michigan will have almost as many people 75 and older as it has school-age children.
Implications will arise for the state’s workforce, customer base, tax base and “for the people that are there to provide the services needed for an aging population,” Turner said.
States with a high proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees and high per-capita income are growing, Turner said. That’s important for Michigan to recognize, she said, because Michigan has low college-degree attainment and per-capita income.
Yet growth is forecast in “jobs that require a college degree for entry level positions,” Turner said.
That makes education key to solutions, White-Newsome said.
Arellano agreed, saying that strategies to simply add population won’t be enough.
Today, Michigan’s high school graduation rate is 41st among all states and its 4th grade reading scores rank 39th, according to the latest annual benchmarking study by BLM, a nonprofit statewide leadership group.
That low level of achievement could continue, Arellano said, without more investment and commitment toward better education across the state.
Toward that end, economic development — including housing and education — needs to be a bipartisan priority, Rodriguez-Garriga of BLM said.
Among the business-oriented solutions posed by BLM are reforming the business incentive programs, cutting red tape for business creation and expansion, and increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs. Others say that building population will come from increasing international migration to the state after it declined over recent years.
But strengthening the core of the state and recognizing why people choose to live somewhere will be a start, he said.
“People move for place and opportunities,” Rodriguez-Garriga said. “So let’s focus on investing in place and growing our job opportunities.”
Watch the panel discussion:
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