Michigan's work force needs to get smarter unless the state's families want to get poorer while Michigan's economic prospects get dimmer.
That's according to a report released Tuesday by Michigan Future Inc., which finds the state wounded by its past instead of focusing on retaining the state's college graduates and attracting the talented, educated workers it needs to thrive in the new economy.
"If Michigan doesn't have sufficient human capital, we will not recover when this recession ends," said Don Grimes, senior research specialist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.
The report, written by Grimes and Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., is the second annual assessment of how Michigan is moving from a low-education economy dependent on high-paying factory and automotive jobs to a broadly diversified knowledge-based economy focused on more than making cars and trucks.
Michigan Future promotes the belief that until the state can attract a growing pool of educated workers who can attract new businesses, the state will lag the nation for years to come as auto jobs pay less or disappear altogether.
That idea seems to be sadly correct. Glazer and Grimes note that in 2000, Michigan's per capita income was the 16th highest in the nation. Since then, it's dropped into the bottom half of all states.
"This decline is accelerating," Glazer said. "In 2000 we were 16th. By 2006, we were 26th and in 2007 we were 33rd."
Meanwhile, Michigan ranks 34th in the U.S. for the proportion of adults who hold at least a four-year college degree, a fact working against the state during this recession. Glazer and Grimes point out that during the first 13 months of the downturn, beginning in December 2007, 3.75 million jobs were lost in low-education industries, such as manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality, compared with a gain of 163,000 jobs demanding higher education levels.
The key to a more educated work force is to make Michigan a more attractive place for young graduates -- especially Detroit, since large metro areas with higher incomes and a high proportion of college graduates are a big factor in economic success.
Detroit's downtown resurgence was a step in the right direction, Grimes added. "If the economy hadn't failed, Detroit was moving in the right direction," he said.
How to attract -- or keep -- college graduates and educated workers should be the No. 1 issue for the state, including the next gubernatorial election, Glazer added. Not only because of the loss to the current pool of workers, but because those who've left will raise the next generation of Michigan workers elsewhere.
"We're going to run out of workers," Glazer said. "Every one of these kids who leaves is taking the Michigan economy with them."