Our first state policy agenda

Our new report, A Path to Good-paying Careers for all Michiganders: A 21st Century State Policy Agenda, is about state policy. Our motivation in doing our first ever policy agenda is a sense of urgency that across the political spectrum we need a different set of policy options. Ideas not about how we can turn the clock back and make the old economy work again, but rather ideas about how we can position all Michiganders for economic success in an economy being constantly altered by smarter and smarter machines taking over work traditionally done by humans.

The report is a reflection on what we have learned from 25 years of researching and writing about the national and Michigan economies. The data we primarily relied on for this report comes from our previous work: Michigan’s Transition to a Knowledge-Based Economy: 2007-2014 and The New Path to Prosperity: Lessons for Michigan from two decades of economic change.

And what we have learned from two long-term human capital development projects we were involved in: The Reducing Chronic Unemployment Initiative and the Michigan Future Schools High School Accelerator. Although both provided services exclusively to residents of the City of Detroit, we believe our learnings are applicable across the state.

The basic conclusion of years of research: Michigan will not have a mass middle class again until we transition to the knowledge economy that is the path to prosperity in the 21st Century.

Our work on this report was anchored by core values and beliefs that we have held for our 25 year history:

1. We are data driven. We go where our findings take us. That is the foundation of all that we do.

2. We believe that globalization and increasingly technology are mega forces that are transforming the economy. The places that will do best in the future are those that align with—rather than resist—these new realities. What we have learned most is that what made us prosperous in the past won’t in the future.

3. We are committed to the goal of recreating a high prosperity Michigan. We believe the goal of state economic policy should be rising household income for all Michiganders. High prosperity is different from the most often-used measure for economic success, low unemployment. It is being a place with a broad middle class where wages and benefits allows one to pay the bills, save for retirement and the kids’ education and pass on a better opportunity to the next generation.

Places with low unemployment rates, but also low personal income, aren’t successful to us. The same is true for other commonly cited measures of economic success such as gross state product and doing well on business-friendly rankings. States and regions to us are not successful unless they are a place with a broad middle class.

4. We agree with President Regan when he said a job is the best social program. To us a good-paying job is the best social program. Except for those retired or unable to work at a good-paying job due to physical or mental disability, the best path to a middle class forty-year career are good-paying jobs.

The report lays out an agenda designed to connect all Michiganders to a career of good-paying work in the context of an economy constantly being reshaped largely by technology. It will be followed by the release of three white papers that detail specific policy options in the areas where state government action can make the biggest impact on raising household incomes of all Michiganders: education, placemaking and shared prosperity.

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