Michigan incomes roar back. But the news isn’t good in Trump Country.

Incomes rise in Michigan

In 2017, the median household income rose statewide and in most of the large counties. But they continued to fall in a handful of others. Click to get more information.

Source: U.S. Census’ 2017 1-year American Community Survey

Michigan’s household incomes in 2017 rose by the fastest amount in over a decade and poverty declined, providing more proof of a sustained recovery –  and talking points for the state’s gubernatorial candidates.

Census data released Thursday show median incomes jumped 2.9 percent statewide to $54,909, the 17th largest increase among states.

That’s slower than the national gain of 3 percent to $60,336, and incomes fell in many parts of Michigan, particularly counties that switched support from President Obama to Donald Trump in 2016. Michigan remains one of only nine states where incomes are below 2006 levels when adjusted for inflation.

So the economy remains central to the Michigan governor’s race. Republican Bill Schuette says electing a Democrat would imperil the recovery, while Democrat Gretchen Whitmer says gains are uneven and plenty of folks still need help.

For those left behind in the recovery, any focus on wages, opportunity and stability will continue to resonate, said pollster Ed Sarpolus, of Target-Insyght in Lansing.

“It’s 2016 all over again,” Sarpolus said, referring to the economic angst that contributed to the narrow win for Trump in Michigan, where he campaigned on trade and economic issues. “People are still struggling.”

The new Census figures are for communities and counties with populations above 65,000. In Michigan, 29 of 83 counties are large enough to be included. Median incomes rose in 20, including a nearly 13 percent gain in mid-Michigan’s Eaton County.

But candidates who address pocketbook issues may find receptive audiences across the state, particularly in the Saginaw-Bay City region and in Battle Creek and Monroe in southern Michigan.

In those counties, as well as five others, incomes fell. In Clinton County, which borders Eaton County, the median household income fell 6.9 percent from 2016 to 2017.

In comments provided to Bridge Magazine, the Whitmer campaign acknowledged the chasm. While professionals in Oakland and Kent counties may do well, blue-collar workers in Flint and Muskegon are not.

“Gretchen believes every Michigander deserves a path to a high-wage skill, economic opportunity, and an income that supports their family, regardless of their zip code,” her campaign told Bridge.

“But right now Michigan’s ‘economic comeback’ excludes a lot of small business owners, the working class, women and people of color.”

Schuette’s take was more succinct: A Democrat like Whitmer, who he’s repeatedly tied to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Great Recession, would be bad for Michigan.

“The economy is STRONG and incomes continue to rise,” he wrote on Twitter. “Now is NOT the time to raise taxes and put our economic successes at risk.”

Schuette’s campaign noted that Michigan’s median income remains below the U.S. median. In 2006, Michigan had the 24th highest median income. It now stands at 34th.

“That is unacceptable. And while Michigan has started to recover, it has started to recover because of smart fiscal policies such as cutting taxes,” Schuette said in a statement to Bridge.

While both candidates say they’ll focus on job training, they will strongly disagree on other economic issues: Whitmer said she backs the repeal of GOP-supported laws that made Michigan a right-to-work state, which make joining a labor union optional, and removed “prevailing wage” laws that guaranteed union-level wages for government contracts.

The latest data is based on the American Community Survey, given to over 3 million household nationally. Here are other takeaways:

State on a winning streak: Overall, Michigan’s families are doing better for the sixth consecutive year after five consecutive years of decline. And the poverty rate fell to 14.2 percent, the sixth straight decline since a high of 17.5 percent in 2011.

Detroit sees income gains: The state’s largest city saw its median household income rise over 6 percent to $30,344, well below the statewide number but an indication of an improving economy in the state’s largest city. Demographic numbers indicate the city’s black population continues to decline, while the number of white residents remains stable, comprising 10 percent of the city.

The numbers also hint that the city’s long population decline may have abated. The city’s estimated population, 673,103, nearly 300 people higher than the 2016. But the Census says you should not compare population estimates from the American Community Survey because it is based on surveys while the bureau’s official population estimates are based on more concrete records, including births and deaths.

‘Pivot’ counties struggle: In the 2016 presidential election, 12 counties that had supported President Obama, a Democrat, flipped to supporting Republican President Trump, helping him eke out a 10,700-vote victory in the state. His focus on trade and jobs resonated.

It may resonate today: Some of those counties, including Bay, Saginaw, Monroe and Calhoun, saw the biggest declines in incomes and continue to far below pre-recession levels. Bay County, at the base of the Thumb, saw its median income fall from middle of the pack in 2010 to near the bottom of the 800 large counties in the latest data release.

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Bob Carr
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 8:55am

It's all about Michigan. Go positive and 'talk Michigan, and Michigan, and Michigan! Focus! Bob Carr

Timothy Jenks
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 11:09am

It is unfortunate that much of the state is in the "population too small" category, where, I would guess, the effect is even more pronounced. Too little data in the micropolitan centers of Traverse City and Alpena? One would think that the much-touted "Regional Prosperity Initiative" would generate some useful information in this regard. Or perhaps that would demonstrate the program's failures.

Dave Errickson
Thu, 09/13/2018 - 3:31pm

In 2006 we were 24th in income now we are 34th and Bill Schudette is blaming the Democrats? Has he forgotten we have had 8 years of Republican control? Why do Republicans have such blind faith in tax cuts and why do people continue to believe them?

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 11:11am

I'm surprised that Clinton County fell 6.9%, that is a growing bedroom community of upper middle class subdivisions especially around DeWitt and St. Johns. I guess appearances can be deceiving.

Sun, 09/16/2018 - 2:37am

I'd like to see the numbers when you limit the sample to incomes under $100,000. With the large income gap that is the reality, there is no doubt these numbers are driven upward by the inclusion of the very well off. You cannot with any honesty make statements like "Michigan’s families are doing better" when the vast majority of us earn under 100k but your data does not present the appropriate statistics for that range.

Amanda Beeson
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 10:25pm

It's my opinion that it's the higher incomes that have improved in Michigan, while under the Snyder/Schuette administration, the households with under $80,000 income are NOT doing better. Schuette subscribes to Trump's cut-taxes-on-the-rich-and-corporations philosophy, which is proving to benefit the big cats and to hurt the regular people.
Just because she'd female, Gretchen Whitmer is not Granholm, and her financial plans will benefit ALL Michiganders, not only the rich.