Lou Glazer is president and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a nonpartisan, non-profit organization focused on creating new ideas regarding how Michigan can succeed as a world-class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations. You can read his latest report and other material at www.michiganfuture.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three columns by Glazer on the policy changes he believes the state needs to pursue to nurture a thriving economy.
The goal of state economic policy should be rising household income for all Michiganders. Michigan should become once again a place with a broad middle class where wages and benefits allows one to pay the bills, save for retirement and the kids’ education and pass on a better opportunity to the next generation.
Places with low unemployment rates, but also low personal income, aren’t successful to us. The same is true for other commonly cited measures of economic success such as gross state product and doing well on business friendly rankings. States and regions to us are not successful unless they are a place with a broad middle class.
Our new report, “A Path to Good Paying Careers for all Michiganders: A 21st century state policy agenda,” offers our ideas how to raise household incomes for all in our state. It’s available at michiganfuture.org.
We agree with President Reagan when he said a job is the best social program. To us, a good-paying job is the best social program. Except for those retired or unable to work at a good-paying job due to physical or mental disability, the best path to a middle class 40-year career is a good-paying jobs. The prime focus of state economic policy must be helping people have a career of good-paying work.
But it’s vital to understand that good-paying work today and, even more so, tomorrow looks much different than good-paying work in the past. Trying to turn the clock back to recreate the economy of the past has not worked. Both parties in Michigan have been promising they can do that for decades without success.
At the core of our agenda for raising Michiganders’ household income is the conviction that human capital is the asset that matters most to individual and state economic well-being. There are three states in the top 15 in per capita income that are energy-driven. Of the other 12 all are in the top 15 in the proportion of adults with a four year degree or more.
We agree with Governor Snyder when he wrote in his Special Message on Developing and Connecting Michigan Talent: “In the 20th century, the most valuable assets to job creators were financial and material capital. In a changing global economy, that is no longer the case. Today, talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth.”
Our research has led us to conclude that the recipe for a prosperous 21st century Michigan is adopting policies that:
(1) Transform education and invest in it from birth through retirement to build foundational skills so that all Michiganders have the agility and ability to constantly switch occupations and have the skills necessary to have good-paying, 40-year careers.
(2) Create and invest in regions across the state with high-quality infrastructure, basic services and amenities where talent from across the planet wants to live and work so the state can retain and attract high-wage employers and entrepreneurs that start high-wage businesses.
(3) Establish and invest in policies that help those not in high-wage jobs work more and earn more.
We understand that some will not agree with this recipe. We hope those who don’t agree will propose alternatives on how to increase household incomes of all Michiganders that are aligned with today’s economic realities. That is the debate Michigan needs, rather than pretending that there is some magic elixir that can recreate Michigan’s high-prosperity 20th century economy.
In my next post we will explore how to pay for these essential public investments.