Government dollars and rural Michigan

A small Michigan subplot to the New York Times' story about how opposition to government benefits programs appears to spike in areas where government benefits are most prevalent.

In 2010, Dan Benishek ran for -- and won --Michigan's 1st Congressional District, which then covered the U.P. and a good hunk of the northeastern quadrant of the Lower Peninsula. Benishek was identified as a Tea Party candidate, with the commensurate focus on curtailing government spending and fiscal responsibility.

Now look at this interactive map from the Times. The Michigan counties where income is most reliant on federal spending are counties in Benishek's district. In fact, several counties in Benishek's district derive a larger percentage of income from government than highly urbanized counties:

Oscoda County-- 44.86 percent

Alcona County-- 44.33 percent

Roscommon County -- 44.21 percent

Gladwin County-- 41.72 percent

Ogemaw County-- 40.87 percent

Genesee County (Flint) -- 31.28 percent

Saginaw County-- 29.05 percent

Wayne County (Detroit) -- 28.04 percent

Kent County (Grand Rapids) -- 18.05 percent

National average -- 17.6 percent

Some of this surely has to do with the aging of rural areas as young people leave in search of employment. The NY Times graphic includes Social Security and Medicare spending in its calculations. Yet, there are arguments in Washington,D.C., to curtail spending on Medicare and raise the retirement age for Social Security.

A trend receiving too little coverage in Michigan these days is the growing outlook gap between urbanized Michigan and rural Michigan. In a 21st century economy, job creation is dominated by urbanized areas. What happens to rural areas if jobs fade away? One answer is that rural areas get older -- and as they get older, they get more dependent on federal benefit programs for the elderly.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Mon, 02/13/2012 - 2:03pm
Might the federal spending in Benishek's district have something to do with the fact that it was previously represented for 18 years by a Democrat whose policies perpetuated that kind of dependency?
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 10:05am
It has less to do with a current or recent congressperson than the following: poor people, older people, federal spending (defense contracts at Menominee/Marinette shipyard), national forests, and ag subsidies, all of which have been bi-partisan for decades, and all of which are even more apparent in much of the rural south and west of the US
David Waymire
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 1:37pm
Christine, go to the NY Times map that Derek's column references. You'll see far more poverty in the solidly Republican states of the south than you will in the Democratic states of the north. It's part of a fascinating trend of lower income, mostly white families voting against their own interests. The reality is that rural northern Michigan is poorer than urban Michigan, despite the political rhetoric that drives the voting public, The dramatic reductions in the state's earned income tax credit, part of the changes made in the last 18 months that have made Michigan's tax system one of the most regressive in the nation, impacted Northern Michigan more than Wayne County or Genesse County.
John Q. Public
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 11:19pm
"It’s part of a fascinating trend of lower income, mostly white families voting against their own interests." I used this very argument with my own relatives. One responded, "Who are you to decide what my best interests are? Maybe my votes aren't always in my best financial interests, but unlike money-grubbers like you, I think some things are more important than that." I don't agree with him, but I see his point.