Michigan’s staggering population losses continue.

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!

Yeah, right…

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.

14 comments

  1. Great post. I live in Joisey so I can’t say I feel your pain, but as Dennis Leary used to say, Life Sux, get a helmet.  The problem with states like Michigan is that they see the writing on the wall, population trends declining, but don’t plan for contraction.  On small scale, Rust Belt States should look to the city of Pittsburgh and see how they reinvented the local economy, they went to a industrial based economy too tech and health care.  With every crisis, there’s opportunity.  Michigan has a chance to re think its urban planning ( i.e Chicago, Portland) you should be rejoicing for the opportunity,.  Here in Jersey, we are packed the the gills and no chance to re invent ourrselves

  2. I live in Pittsburgh.  Seriously, it might be worth taking a lesson from our region here; we lost half of our population centered around 1982.  We’ve rebuilt into a multi-industry region, and most of our jobs aren’t exportable these days.  The excess housing here from folks leaving buffered the housing bubble on the way up, and we’ve had no housing crash.  We’re still adding jobs, even in the current economy, although we’re also adding unemployment, as more people are moving here, more than the number of jobs we’ve added.

    Dunno.  Our industries are technology, finance, healthcare, and education, which have turned out to be pretty solid bets.  At least, solid bets given that PNC and Mellon weren’t swamped by subprime mortgages.

  3. I’m extremely lucky to be living and working in Troy now.

    I’ve got a great job with a continually growing company and great benefits.

    Just weeks before the interview process started, I was all but resigned to the fact that I would have to take my diploma elsewhere. But now that I’m even more entrenched in Metro-Detroit I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

    If only the rest of the nation could see how awesome Metro-Detroit is.

    This article is very sports centric but it came to mind as I wrote this: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/the_bonus/01/07/detroit/index.html

  4. Sepharo;

    Don’t know what the locals think of it, but *man*, the DEMF got a lot of us folks from other regions to come visit and see that Detroit doesn’t actually look like a scene from Robocop.

  5. Every time I read about Michigan’s state of affairs I wonder if unions haven’t basically been nailing the coffin shut ever since we’ve really started rolling out a truly global economy and everyone’s just not noticed until it’s too late.

  6. What really, really, really pisses me off is when people in my field, many of whom are responsible for hiring decisions, tell me I should leave the state if I want a job, but these same people seem to be incapable of hiring someone who is from Michigan. The last two librarians hired at the college I attended as an undergraduate are from New York and Illinois. Michigan has two universities that offer master’s degrees in library science, yet the graduates of these programs almost never seem to get hired by Michigan libraries.

  7. I should point out, Les, that with no clear view on exactly what “intelligence” is, you’re probably being harder on yourself than you need to be.

    Social affluence – how fit you are for the society you’re in – bears a tremendous role in the matter.

    Your thoughtfulness is, in my personal opinion, the biggest factor in other people’s being impressed by you. There’s not a lot of pay in being a thinking person: your ability to memorize and obey, or to apply that thinking in problem-solving is far more valued in the market.

    That all assumes, of course, that you’ll be getting a fair, bias-free assessment in the market. Nobody, not you nor researchers on bias in the workplace, are free from bias. Fundamentally, people’s emotional response to you is what gets you hired.

    … so, yeah. Don’t sweat it. You’re only human.

  8. I have to second that issue about what ‘intelligence’ is and how it applies.  Smart people sometimes do irrational things because dammit, they just frakkin’ feel like it.  What you are doing seems like more of a calculated gamble in which some of the payoff is staying in a place you like to be.  Not everything is money.

    But if you ever want to move to Normal (Illinois), I’m sure you’d fit right in.  Because almost nobody here is.

  9. What can I say about Sweet Home Michigan and its failing economy? I grew up there, hunted, fished, chased tail & worked until it was time to go. I left 12 years ago and have spent less than 20 days there since.  I show up for the occasional reunion, birth or funeral. That’s it. Beautiful state outside of the cities. Its still a favorite despite it all.

    There are probably a large number of reasons the economy has failed. [Michigan economy:FAIL]
    I could only speculate on them.

    What I can say is from what I’ve heard the state isn’t a help to anyone there. In fact they just raised taxes on tobacco again. [looseleaf this time] 29$/lb. (it’s 49-59$/lb total – about three cartons) So many folks were ‘rolling their own’ the state felt it was getting screwed out of taxes and decided to levee more. The people that were rolling their own were driven to do so by a previously levied tax per pack that made it to expensive to afford. As a result Michigan’s ‘black market tobacco problem’ just got worse.
    I’m sure this tax enforcement will cost far more than its worth as it did with the ever repeated pack-tax(es) previous. Many people have been charged with smuggling and tax evasion etc. Thousands of dollars in fines and incarceration costs I’m sure.

    You know folks can’t afford the fines, court costs or the bail.
    Property seizures usually follow.

    Sounds like oppression and poor judgment to me.

    This is just the latest and greatest way to screw some folks with taxation. Genius move Granholm. BRAVO.

    My father is quitting smoking as a result. (total bonus) but he had this to say being born and bred in Michigan,“Michigan can have it’s ridiculous taxes but not from me.” He’s is leaving the state for work elsewhere. I don’t think he’ll be back.

    I also heard that over 6000 people have left Saginaw, MI (for other states) in the last 90 days. It really was a shithole so I don’t blame them but it is an alarming number if its true.

    So as was previously mentioned in the thread, folks ARE leaving. The ones that stay tend to be of lesser education and skill. Good luck with that. As a result I bet your sitting on a powder keg.

    When’s the next riot?

    How good is your resume?
    If youre not lookin youre not trying.
    http://www.100kjobs.ca/

  10. There’s not a lot of pay in being a thinking person: your ability to memorize and obey, or to apply that thinking in problem-solving is far more valued in the market.

    Huh?  Doesn’t application of thinking to problem-solving explictly require thinking in the first instance?

  11. Huh?  Doesn’t application of thinking to problem-solving explictly require thinking in the first instance?

    Yep, in that one (somewhat limited) instance.

    What about everywhere else?

    Your ability to question anything (including, say, your superiors and your orders) is not generally welcome in business. That’s considered trying to tell X or Y “how to do their job”. This is especially true if your questioning leads you to find problems that need solving.

    The majority of retail and sales jobs rely on people skills. Critical thinking (especially of an ethical bent) is bad. You don’t want to care what you sell to whom; it is justified so long as the item is sold.

    Let’s face it: how many jobs require you to be able to make a sound argument (as opposed to a persuasive one)? Not that damn many. The market is made up of laborers, not philosophers.

  12. Let’s face it: how many jobs require you to be able to make a sound argument (as opposed to a persuasive one)? Not that damn many. The market is made up of laborers, not philosophers.

    How very sad, but one need only think of the fate of whistle-blowers to know that it is true.

  13. I’m currently an AccountingMajor at Wayne State and I’m seriously considering moving to Chicago once I have my CPA license. This state’s economy’s gone to hell. Chrysler’s gone to bankrupt and the writing on the wall is that GM will be soon following. In my neighborhood, half the businesses have gone under. Pravcticallyobody is hiring- from McDonalds to Ford.

    Adding to the problem is that this state has next to no financial aid- no scholarships and no state loans. I’ve become so desperate for cash I’ve had to take a (second!)job doing over-the-phone fundraising to make ends meet.

    The most depressing thing is that nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Granholm’s only solution is to say “Oh things will get better!” and Kilpatrick was too busy being on 95.5 to do anything to help his dying city. The State Senate? Please.

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