We Couldn’t Have Said it Better
Once in a long while you read something that you could have written word for work. That is the case for me and today’s Free Press editorial. Worth reading and take a look at the terrific charts as well.
The editorial is titled: Graduate to a Smarter State. With a subtitle of Michigan’s economic future depends on helping more residents get college degrees. That’s the basic belief that underpins all of Michigan Future’s work for a decade or more.
The editorial presents data that the states with the highest incomes are those with the highest proportion of adults with a four-year degree. That talent – not taxes – is what is driving prosperity.
As we say in every presentation, Michigan’s fundamental problem is that we are thirty fourth in college attainment. Nothing else comes close!. If we don’t improve in education attainment we will be one of the poorest states in the country. In an industrial economy you could be prosperous with relatively low education attainment. No more!
So that means that preparing, retaining and attracting talent becomes the economic growth priority for policy makers. Not getting taxes right, picking industries or winning the next competition for a factory. Do all those things well and not concentrate talent here, we will continue to get poorer compared to the nation.
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We only lack for degreed students because they leave as fast as they graduate. There are few, if any, available jobs in Michigan. Taxpayers foot the bill to educate students only to have them leave taking their education with them.
If you make conditions favorable to job creation, the educated will seek them out here. We have to be able to employ more than teachers in Michigan.
Actually Michigan lags in the proportion of high school students who go to college and those who get degrees. So we need to do a better job of preparing talent. But as you point out, more college grads leave the state than move in. So we also need to focus on retaining and attracting talent.
But it turns out Michigan has had difficulty retaining recent college graduates when our economy was strong as well as now when its weak. From 1995-2000 when Michigan had an unemployment rate as low as 3.2% and labor shortages – more jobs than workers in all industries and all skill levels – the Census Bureau found that Michigan had the third largest net outmigration of young professionals – only Ohio and Pennsylvania were worse.
Add to that, when you ask recent college grads why they decided to settle where they did a majority say they decided on where they wanted to live first, then look for a job. So quality of place – particularly a vibrant central city – matters. Its not just a job. What matters the least? Taxes. So young college grads from Michigan head first and foremost to Chicago. Then other big metros around the country – New York, D.C., LA, San Fransisco, Seattle, etc. Hardly low tax places. These are the places Michigan needs to compete with if we are to be prosperous again!
Michigan needs more college grads, it’s true. It’s hard to argue against that. However, my suspicion is that the current exodus of college grads will only intensify when the rest of the country starts the recovery in earnest. Why? Because the jobs around here pay so little that the prospects for paying off one’s student loans here is dismal at best. Businesses around here want five years of experience, this degree, that skill, and such-and-such certification. Starting pay? Nine dollars an hour. I just laugh. I did not get my skills for free and I am not willing to receive peanuts for compensation. When I am widowed (my husband’s health is declining), it is hard for me to imagine staying here with such pitiful wages.
It is a situation like the old saying. “What comes first? The chicken or the egg?” Yes, young college graduates do leave Michigan because of a lack of well paying jobs that use their education and skills. But it is probably also true that knowledge based industries do by-pass Michigan because of our lack of educated, skilled workers. It is a vicious cycle the two halves of the problem feeding on each other. As a state, we have allowed ourselves to slide into this mess as we deperately tried to save the automobile industry and other manufacturing industries. We ignored the need to train and retain highly educated, skilled workers, because the automobile industry had plenty of jobs for uneducated workers. Now we have to slve both problems at once. It will not be easy, and it will not be done quickly.
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