Transplanted, that’s what I am. I’m a person living in exile. I’m the daughter of a military man, so I’m used to living as a vagabond. Michigan is not where I was born and raised, but it’s been my home for over twenty years now. At times, it’s been a great place to live. When I moved here to follow my husband from Minnesota, I bought into the notion that Detroit was going through a renaissance and that the only place that this state could go was up. The Detroit area doesn’t have the charm and hominess of the Twin Cities, but it had the potential. At the time, Coleman Young was the mayor, and James Blanchard was the governor. These were two Democrats with a lot of drive, charisma and enthusiasm. A lot has happened in Michigan over the last twenty years. Over the past few years, especially, I’ve been increasingly concerned about the state of the state.
You’ve all probably read the bad news on how dangerous it is to live in this state. Detroit and Flint still hold honored spots in the top 10. Certainly, this is the place that spawned Eminem’s “Eight Mile,” and the semi-autobiographical description of his life doesn’t stray far from real life. No matter what good Detroit has going for it, whether it be new stadiums, a really great symphony orchestra, wonderful art museums or hockey team, no one really wants to travel south of Eight Mile Road. There are beautiful neighborhoods in Detroit, and we actually considered buying there, but the fear of the unknown kept us north of that border.
The economy in Michigan right now is breathtakingly precarious. Michigan now holds the dubious distinction of ranking Number Two (7.1%) in the nation for unemployment, just one slot under Mississippi (7.2%). Unlike Mississippi, we don’t have Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to blame for our plight. Thanks to a heavy dependence on the auto industry and its related businesses, that industry has lost over 60,000 just in the last year. It may be wrong, but I have to blame the automakers for poor planning, especially in designing cars per the status quo of Detroit’s heyday. This country and the Big Three should have had the foresight back in the 1970s to try to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. The unions haven’t helped; they’re unwilling to concede benefits, even if it means saving their jobs.
Once the automakers close up plants or move their operations elsewhere, other businesses suffer by the trickle down effect. It’s not just the auto suppliers, either. Take the real estate market as an example. If you’re a home buyer, the housing market is a great place to be right now. If you’re a home seller, you’re screwed. This time last year, in Oakland County, where I live, there were 7,000 homes for sale. Last year was also considered a record buyer’s market. This year, there are more than double that many homes for sale in Oakland County alone. Homes are sitting on the market too long. I know of one that’s been on the market for over two years! Some sellers are starting to offer cars or other enticements just to get buyers in the door. People are forced to lower the asking price far below what the assessed value of the home may be, just to get out from under. We were one of those home sellers last year, and it wasn’t pleasant to suffer that kind of loss. The only good thing about the sale of our home was that it sold last year and we’re not stuck trying to sell it this year. The next predictor of doom is that the forclosure rate in metro Detroit is now the highest in the country, with one in 80 homes being in foreclosure.
On the employment front, Michigan has done little to pump up the numbers. Other states are coming to the rescue, but to what end? Since September, the state of Wyoming has sent envoys to Michigan about every three weeks to host job fairs in most of the major cities. It appears that with recent coal and natural gas mining revving up, Wyoming has a glut of jobs, and not enough workers. It’s not just the energy boom, too. They also need construction workers to build homes, school teachers for their new schools, and other workers for other businesses. Are our children, and our best workers all going to have to leave Michigan just to survive?
The state of Michigan doesn’t seem to want to attract small businesses, or to keep the small businesses we already have. Small businesses are folding up left and right. If you have ever seen or heard the ad that features actor Jeff Daniels extolling the state as a great place to run a business, don’t believe him. We own a small business, and it’s now becoming a gargantuan struggle to stay in business. It’s not just a lack of customers, or the fact that the customers have no money to spend. The state, which also regulates our business, does nothing to help. In fact, they’re the ones who throw up the biggest road blocks.
There may be tax breaks and incentives for the Fords and GMs of the world, but there are no considerations for a small business owner. In addition to paying for income taxes and property taxes on our business, Michigan has a neat little tax called the “Single Business Tax,” which really irritates me to no end. It’s just another tax on top of what we already pay to be collected for the general fund.
The state of Michigan has some of the highest taxes in the country. What most people don’t realize is that most of our taxes do NOT go to pay for schools or roads or welfare or even the salaries of state workers. Most of our tax dollars goes to pay for the state retirement fund. If you’re a retired teacher, policeman or state worker, you’re basically set for life, with a huge retirement and free health care until you die.
What really concerns me most is the state of education in Michigan. According to the Detroit News, Michigan ranks 11th in the country in school revenue spending. However, Michigan also ranks 48th among the states in the percentage of funding that is actually spent on students. To complement this, last year, the Detroit News polled parents about their thoughts on the value of higher education. Most parents polled believed that a college education was not necessary to achieve a higher standard of living. To know that most people in this state believe this is an embarrassment. According to the Detroit News, only 23% of Michigan adults hold four-year degrees, ranking 38th in the nation. It also explains why the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) scores have been slowly sliding backward for the last ten years.
Michigan, the state, its politicians, business owners and people really needs to buckle down and assess what is happening here. We can no longer believe the fluff that’s handed to us by politicians and the local news media. It’s nice that our governor and Google are bringing 1,000 jobs here to Ann Arbor, but what about the other 59,000 unemployed persons who need a job? We can no longer afford to hide our heads in the sand, hoping that a better day will come from someone else’s initiative, or continue to pay taxes and see no or very little return. To start out with, the state budget has to be overhauled, especially the retirement system, before it goes bankrupt, which is the next step in this scary scenario.
Michigan is a wonderful state, with lots to offer. It’s time for its people to step up to the plate and fix what’s definitely wrong.