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Opinion | To attract talent, go to states that are attacking women, gays

The Census Bureau’s 2022 state population estimates revealed a second straight year of population loss in Michigan. While births increased slightly over the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 and immigration numbers rebounded after years of cutbacks, continued high death numbers and net domestic outmigration drove the loss.

Kurt Metzger
Kurt Metzger is the principal at Kurt R. Metzger & Associates, director emeritus at Data Driven Detroit and spent 15 years with the U.S. Census Bureau in the Detroit Regional Office.

In order to better understand these trends, and to address the concerns of business leaders surveyed during the first quarter of 2023 by Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM)….

“Michigan business leaders’ concerns over filling jobs has remained overwhelmingly high at 78 percent, with 81 percent of respondents citing a lack of applicants with necessary skills as the primary challenge.  Additionally, 89 percent of respondents noted that quality and availability of talent is the top factor in choosing where to invest and expand their employment.”

…it is important that we understand how Michigan’s age structure compares to other states in the country. The issues of educational attainment, skills development and talent continue to be well covered by BLM and Michigan Future, and will be the basis of my analysis when the Census Bureau releases the 2022 American Community Survey data later this year.

Figure 1 provides a picture of Michigan’s ranking among states for each of 7 age cohorts. I have taken each group and calculated the percentage share that it represents of the total population. Allow me to provide brief observations on each.


Less than 18 years – Michigan’s aging population, combined with a higher share of white population than many states, has resulted in low birth rates and a rank of 30th. Since birth rates are not likely to grow (all race/ethnic groups have experienced decreases nationally), Michigan must retain and attract more residents in their child-bearing years.

18 - 24 years – This group encompasses the talent pipeline that is attending 2- and 4-year institutions and training programs. While Michigan ranks in the top half of states at 23rd, much can be attributed to the excellent community colleges and universities in the state. Our problem is that, while we educate a large cohort of those 18-24 years of age, we are unable to keep them once they have graduated. Educating students about Michigan job opportunities while they are in school is critical to keeping them here.

25 - 34 years – This cohort represents a primary target for business recruiting. Most have completed their education, or are in graduate and professional programs.  Michigan does reasonably well with this group, ranking 24th nationally, but still lags many leading states in the share of this group that is college-educated.

35 - 44 years – This cohort represents the prime working age target for business recruitment, as they bring education, skills and experience to the job. Michigan almost falls off the charts with this group, ranking 49th. It is crucial that we get a handle as to why Michigan is losing the race to maintain a strong, young and talented workforce, and why we are falling so far behind with this cohort.

45 - 54 years – As we move up in the age structure, we find that Michigan moves up in the rankings as well to 20th. While this cohort is still critical for employment, it is less able to adapt to new technologies that require learning new skills, thus making it less attractive to business recruiters and those making location decisions.

55 - 64 years – Michigan moves up to a rank of 10th for the pre-retirement cohort. The media is filled with stories of professions – medical, manufacturing, education, etc. – that are on the cusp of large numbers of retirees that will need to be replaced. These numbers show that the effect of these trends on Michigan is far greater than the vast majority of other states.

65 years and over – It should be no surprise that, after reviewing the younger cohorts, we find Michigan’s second highest rank – 15th – associated with the elderly. Michigan has a quarter of its counties with median ages over 50 years, and ranks second in share of its population born in-state. This cohort is forecast to be the fastest growing over the next 25 years.

What Can We Do?

While I applaud many of the efforts on the governmental, corporate, and nonprofit levels to make Michigan attractive to young talent, the data show relatively little progress. I blame this on the piecemeal nature of these efforts. Michigan needs a coordinated effort that brings all partners to the table across all regions of the state, coupled with an outreach program similar to Pure Michigan.

Michigan has passed legislation that reflects the views of a majority of Americans – particularly Millennials and Gen Z – in the areas of redistricting, abortion access, LGBTQ rights, gun safety and much more. We need to make this known nationally and begin to develop a campaign that is fast and nimble and targets urban areas across the country that are being bombarded with anti-women, anti-gay, pro-gun, ANTI-DEMOCRATIC legislation. 

As soon as new legislation is introduced (even threats to stop funding libraries in Missouri), we need to target those communities with the ‘Michigan Message.’ 

We can no longer sit back and wait for the “climate change refugees” to find us.  We have a great story!  Now let’s tell it!

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