Monday, November 28, 2011

Staying Put in Michigan

Map by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute
using U.S. Census data.

Everyone and their brother seem to have moved out of Michigan, yet it has one of the largest percentages of native-born residents in the country. In The Atlantic, Richard Florida writes:
More than three quarters of the people in Louisiana (78.9 percent), Michigan (76.6 percent) and Ohio (75.1 percent) were born there, as opposed to just 24.3 percent of Nevadans, 35.2 percent of Floridians, 37.2 percent of the residents of Washington, D.C., and 37.7 percent of Arizonans. A high level of home-grown residents is also indicative of a lack of inflow of new people.

There is a distinctive “stuck belt” across the middle of the country running from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, down through West Virginia and into the Sunbelt states of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Mobility is largely a bi-coastal—plus Rocky Mountain state—phenomenon.


  1. Thats because no one moves IN to Michigan - leaving those that were born in Michigan

  2. Exactly. This is an interesting map, but it doesn't necessarily reveal what Florida claims it reveals. A state that's shrinking seems guaranteed to have a higher percentage of residents who were born there. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they feel trapped there, although I have to assume that many people who live in Flint and other economically troubled cities would move if they knew there was a good job waiting for them somewhere else.

  3. I was born in Lapeer, and I relocated to Ann Arbor in 1997. I teach art full time at a public school, and my husband is employed as a tax foreclosure housing counselor. I'd say we are one of the few cities in the state that are doing relatively well. There's lots to do, it's a pretty town, and it's centrally located and walkable. We're close to Detroit, so we drive there for entertainment often. It's true that you can afford a much bigger house outside of city limits, but I love our bungalow.

    Many of my old Gen-X friends from H.S. and college have left the state, either by choice (bigger cities, warmer climates, progressive culture) or because they were laid off and could only find work elsewhere. That I know of, none of them left to chase lower property taxes. So I guess I'm saying; I don't feel like I'm stuck in a bad place.

  4. Gordon,

    It would be interested in knowing what the education breakdown of the remaining residents?

    What is the education breakdown of those former residents that have left the state?

    Has Michigan suffered a brain drain? If so, how bad is it?

    I guess I have some work to do.

  5. Hmm...Michigan ranks 33rd and is below the national average of individuals with college educations of 2 or more years. Interesting report - so what percentage are we losing is the question?

  6. Give Richard Florida a map and he can get 800 words out of it, including a catchy new term or two (e.g. "stuck belt).

    That's about the kindest thing I can say about him. His "creative class" schtick is rank elitism wrapped up in planner jargon.

  7. Paul, thanks for the info. I'm going to post something on brain drain in Michigan. As you might expect, it's very, very bad.

    Will, I've been wondering how Florida has managed to attract so much attention. He's thought provoking, but so many other planners have pointed out so many flaws in his ideas it's hard to understand why he just might be the most famous planner in the world.

  8. I think his ideas are attractive to a lot of people because the concept of a "creative class" and his message ("attract them or perish!") gives planners permission to, shall we say, "gentrify or die tryin'". Obviously, hip mixed-use downtown redevelopment is a lot more fun and attention-getting than the glacial (and consequently seemingly-sisyphean) process of rebuilding urban neighborhoods ravaged by decades of white flight and postindustrial disinvestment.

    Merely my two cents, of course.

  9. I've seen a lot of people move from Michigan in my relatively short life. In that time, a lot have moved back. I'm not sure why the Flint area has that pull, but it does.

    Speaking for myself, my love of the city has kept me here first, and the proximity to my parents is second. I think it would be selfish to take them away from my son, and vice versa.

    I think a lot of people stick around because our parents and grandparents aren't going anywhere. They worked for GM, have money, and have no reason to leave. A lot of us want to stick close to family, and they're here.

    My best friend moved to Cincinnati a little over two years ago, and he can't wait to move back. The job situation is the only thing keeping him there. I have another friend in New York that would rather be here than there; it's the opportunity in NY that's kept her there.

  10. As someone who grew up in the Flint area, its quite sad to hear so many reports about the decreased population due to the economic conditions. At the same time, I don't think most young people have much of a choice. You either cater to whatever industry that is doing relatively well or you move elsewhere, pure and simple.

    I moved to Chicago in 2010 after living in various towns throughout Michigan (post-college). Some towns I loved, some I did not. However the common theme in my moves within Michigan was the high amount of uncertainty about my job security. Now, my cost of living is ridiculous (as to be expected living in a big city), but at least the opportunities towards my field exist.

    Overall, I feel bad at times for leaving Michigan, and especially the Flint area. The work ethic alone is something that is quite unique and something to be proud of. Unfortunately, most young adults (like myself) have to make difficult choices. For me, moving to Chicago turned out be great, but I believe that my approach to my job, life circumstances, and morality has been influenced by my childhood environment. So, let's hope that Flint turns the corner and revitalizes itself towards the current socio-economic conditions while instilling the importance of hard-work and productivity.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at