Opinion

Don’t feel too bad about blowing off Michigan’s so-called population crisis

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Pardon me if I’m not running around with my hair on fire because Michigan’s population isn’t exploding at the seams.

Don’t listen to the outrage police. You don’t give one lick that Michigan’s population isn’t growing like it is in Texas or Florida. You’re probably relieved.

I understand that’s not the chic take these days, but here’s the reality:

You didn’t wake up this morning stressing that you weren’t going to wait longer in traffic. That you couldn’t get a VRBO vacation rental Up North. That the grocery store wasn’t going to run out of those cheap pints of strawberries.

No, you did not. And don’t feel bad about it.

So, where did this manufactured crisis come from?

As if the whole thing was choreographed ahead of time, the Citizens Research Council came out with its report on Michigan’s slow growth May 16. Bridge Michigan promoted the situation as a “crisis” (a word not used once in the CRC’s 13-page summary report) on May 17.

Then, lo and behold, Bridge exclusively reported May 23 that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was going to call for a new commission to research this “crisis” as her featured announcement at the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference.

Whitmer’s independent panel is going to take the rest of the year to figure out how we can get more people to move to Michigan. 

I don’t own a crystal ball, but if this commission doesn’t report back that we need to “fix the damn roads” or sink more money into improving our public schools, you can knock me over with a feather. 

After all, we need better roads, better education and better communities to entice more people here to enjoy our beautiful seasons, fresh water and lush forests … right?

The business community will likely take the opposite position on the chicken-or-the-egg argument. If we don’t improve our regulatory environment and keep taxes low, the job providers won’t come here with their jobs.

Resurrecting this whole “people are fleeing Michigan” schtick is a backdoor scheme that political figures create to argue for the policies they’ve always wanted. 

It’s a political argument that was used when Jim Blanchard was governor, when Jennifer Granholm was governor and now, when Whitmer is governor.

Let’s look at the U.S. Census numbers.

Michigan had 13.5% more people living within its borders in 2020 than it did in 1970. Ohio had 10.7% more. Pennsylvania had 10.2%. Illinois had 15.2%. 

This isn’t a crisis. Let’s discuss what is a crisis.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority reports that Michigan has 190,000 fewer homes than people need. 

Places like Traverse City and parts of West Michigan have such a housing shortage that trailer parks are being seriously offered up as at least a short-term answer. In 2023, working-class folk can’t afford to build a house. Finding an existing home is hard. Much of the available stock is either big-time fix-me-uppers or way out of any normal person’s price range, especially if the property taxes are too high.

This isn’t the 1920s or 1930s, when auto companies were so desperate for workers that they developed entire neighborhoods around their plants. Back then, Michigan saw 30% growth between the decennial censuses. 

It’s not even the 1940s, when the war effort turned all those factories into “arsenals of democracy” and Michigan’s population growth was around 20%.

Our industries today aren’t as labor-intensive as they were. Today’s farms are mostly large, automated operations. They don’t need a family with eight to 10 kids to work as farmhands. 

These days, the average family size is 3.13 people. 

Texas and Florida are gaining people because of massive southern migration. These states aren’t doing anything magical on a public policy front. They’re just geographically big states near the southern border.

Homes are even more expensive and hard to get down there. The roads are more packed. Health care is harder to come by. Internet is spotty. They have more congressional districts, but so what? They have more politicians.

Meanwhile, we can still get into Sleeping Bear Dunes on the weekend. There’s no real traffic outside of the construction zones. There are jobs if you need one. 

You tell me who has the population crisis.

 

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