Back in January of 2007 I wrote an entry titled Last person to leave Michigan please turn out the lights.
Things haven’t improved since then:
People are leaving Michigan at a staggering rate. About 109,000 more people left Michigan last year than moved in. It is one of the worst rates in the nation, quadruple the loss of just eight years ago. The state loses a family every 12 minutes, and the families who are leaving—young, well-educated high-income earners—are the people the state desperately needs to rebuild.
[...] Michigan’s exodus is one of the state’s best known but least understood problems. Long ignored or downplayed, outmigration has been shrugged off partly because it was assumed that those who were leaving were unemployed blue-collar workers and retirees, groups that, in economic terms, don’t cripple the state with their departure.
But a Detroit News analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service data reveals that every day, Michigan gets less populated, less educated, and poorer because of outmigration.
The state’s net loss to outmigration—the number of people leaving the state minus those moving in from other states—has skyrocketed since 2001. Although the Census Bureau does not report totals moving in and out each year, Internal Revenue Service records show that the population decline is a result of two disturbing trends: The number of Michigan residents leaving the state rose 25 percent between 2001 and 2007, while the number of new residents moving in plummeted by nearly one-third.
Since 2001, migration has cost Michigan 465,000 people, the equivalent of the combined populations of Grand Rapids, Warren and Sterling Heights—the state’s second-, third- and fourth-largest cities.
I’ve said before that if I were as smart as a lot of folks seem to think I am that I would have packed up and moved years ago. Anne and I did spend some time discussing the possibility in 2005 during the period when I was laid off for the first time. I’m the reason we didn’t leave the state then and looking back on it that was probably a mistake. It’s probably an even bigger mistake to stay now, but this is my home. I love this state despite all its problems and the sucky economy. It’s totally irrational and it’s probably cost me quite a bit of money, but I still have a hard time thinking about leaving.
• Those leaving Michigan are the people the state most needs to keep—young and college-educated. The state suffered a net loss to migration of 18,000 adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2007 alone—the equivalent of half the staff of the University of Michigan crossing the state line.
• Michiganians who fled the state in 2007 took with them almost $1.2 billion more in paychecks than the paychecks of those moving in. That represents a 45 percent increase in lost wages in just one year, money no longer spent in Michigan businesses, paying mortgages or paying taxes.
• The net loss of school-age children was more than 12,000 in 2007 alone, costing individual school districts roughly $84 million in state aid.
• With about 36,000 more households leaving the state than moving in, that leaves 36,000 empty houses and apartments, damaging already weak home values. “When there are more properties on the market, it drives down prices,” said Ron Walraven, a real estate agent in West Bloomfield. “With the layoffs and the buyouts at the auto companies, people are leaving. Some are just abandoning their homes.”
• People moving from state to state are disproportionately young. While almost 13 percent of Michigan’s population is over 65, only 2.5 percent of those leaving are that old. That means outmigration is adding to the costs associated with an aging population, such as the state’s share of Medicaid payments to retirement homes.
• There will be fewer tax dollars to pay for those services, maintain roads or run schools. According to Senate Fiscal Agency estimates, the income leaving the state cost Michigan more than $100 million in personal income tax revenue in 2007 alone.
I’m 41 years old and I still don’t have my college degree, though I am working on one. I don’t own a home yet. My daughter has graduated high school and is attending community college with me. I’m not as young as the other folks leaving Michigan, but I also don’t have as much holding me here so I could move if I could convince myself to do so. Every time I think about it I rationalize it back and forth. For example I tell myself that, without a college degree, it’s arguable if I’d be much better off someplace else over where I am now, but then I’m looking at a couple of years before I’ll even get my associates at the pace I’m taking classes currently so by the time I do have it it’s arguable if moving would still make sense.
Those with college educations were more likely to move than those without a degree. One-quarter of adults still in Michigan have at least a four-year college degree, compared to 39 percent of those who left.
In simplest terms, those with the skills to leave Michigan are doing so; high-skilled people from other states who once might have moved to Michigan are choosing to go elsewhere.
“Migration is good for the migrants but bad for the state they’re leaving,” said Mark Partridge, an economics professor at Ohio State University who specializes in the study of migration patterns. “It’s a vicious downward cycle; the best and brightest leave; entrepreneurs don’t come to the state because the best and brightest are elsewhere; as more people leave, that leaves fewer people to pay for services. Neither one will make Michigan a very appealing place.”
People who know me in real life often compliment me as being amazingly intelligent, but clearly I’m not as bright as I’d like to think I am. The funny part is that I’m quite well educated in how the human brain works in terms of rationalizing and wishful thinking and confirmation bias and yet, in spite of knowing all of that, I still fall victim to the same rationalizing and wishful thinking and confirmation bias as everyone else. I can even recognize the fact that I’m engaging in it and yet I still let it override my decision making process because I don’t want to move out of Michigan.
With all these other people going, I say to myself, I become that much more valuable to the companies that are still here. All the while ignoring the fact that the companies that are still here that I’ve traditionally worked for most of my career are on the verge of bankruptcy and begging the government for bailout funds. Granted I’m currently working for Big Dot.Com here in Ann Arbor which isn’t likely to go belly up anytime soon, but even they are eliminating 200 jobs to trim a little fat in these trying times. And before you ask, no, my job isn’t in danger of being eliminated in the fat cutting. Especially not since we went from three techs to two. The only threat to my current employment is the fact that I’m just about to hit my one year anniversary giving me one more year before my contract comes to a mandatory end. Still, I tell myself, I’m contributing to Michigan’s comeback by staying!
As bad as the outmigration numbers are now, Metzger worries they may get worse.
“The pattern used to be that people would move away from Michigan and then move back,” Metzger said. “Now, people are moving and then drawing the rest of their (extended) family with them.”
Gina Damuth’s husband, Fred Damuth, was laid off from Pfizer in 2007. Later that year, they moved from Farmington Hills to North Carolina.
Now, Gina Damuth has convinced her parents to move to North Carolina, too.
“I feel so bad for the people stuck in Michigan,” said Damuth, 34. “I was in the Detroit area recently and I didn’t realize the number of people who walk with their head down. You can see it if you pay attention—nobody smiles, everybody looks depressed. My dad says it’s scarier now. People are talking about how they don’t know if Michigan is going to recover this time.”
That recovery will be harder because of the people who have left, said University of Michigan economist Don Grimes. “You can’t grow your economy if you’re shrinking. You basically have an infrastructure built around a certain size of economy, and if you shrink below that scale, you have fewer people to support the infrastructure.”
That can mean higher taxes, poorer services or both.
Some of those costs won’t be felt for decades.
“When you lose people in their 20s, in five years, you won’t have their kids entering school; in 20 years, you won’t have their kids entering the work force,” Grimes said. “It puts you in a downward spiral.”
Indeed, demographers have said the sharp population losses from 1979 to 1983, when the state lost nearly a half-million people in four years, created an “echo dip” in the state’s population nearly two decades later. The current migration, which has seen similar total losses, has lasted twice as long.
I can see it right in front of me: Things are bad and they’re likely to only get worse. Michigan has the highest unemployment in the nation (11.6% in January compared to 7.9% nationally) and has held that status for years. We’ve lost the most jobs out of all the states between January 2007 and 2009 (-7.3% versus national average of -2.0%). Again, if I were as smart as I’m supposed to be, I’d have moved back before I wrote the first entry about Michigan’s population losses. If I were smart I’d use this entry as the motivation to finally make the move now.
But I probably won’t. I don’t want to move out of Michigan. I love this stupid state and I want to see it succeed. Call it misguided loyalty. Call it stupidity. I won’t deny it. I’ll probably still be here in another two two years when I write the next entry about Michigan’s continuing population decline.