Sept. 20, 2023
More than a quarter of Michigan’s young adults expect to move out of the state within the next decade, according to a survey released Wednesday.
And those who say they are more likely to flee are residents with college degrees or who are currently enrolled in college — the group the state is banking on to reverse its flagging population and economic doldrums.
On a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the most likely to stay in Michigan, participants with no more than a high school diploma scored an average of 6.8; those with a bachelor’s degree or higher averaged 6.1, meaning college grads were more willing to move.
There was also a large difference between white and Black respondents, with Black respondents saying they were more likely to leave.
The survey, conducted for the Detroit Regional Chamber and Business Leaders for Michigan by The Glengariff Group, is the latest indicator of Michigan’s challenge to retain and attract residents.
The Whitmer administration and business community have talked often about the need to increase the state’s population, in part by improving education and keeping more young, college-educated workers who are vital to the expansion of the state’s economy.
“At a time when we’re trying to get Michigan younger and more educated, that is a scary, scary number,” Sandy Baruah, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Wednesday of the survey results.
Pollster Richard Czuba, who conducted the survey, said his company had not polled the question before and so didn’t have a way to determine if the share of young adults who say they want to leave Michigan is on the rise or not. Czuba also said he didn’t have comparisons to the views of young adults in other states.
But in a state that ranks 49th in population growth since 1990, ahead of only West Virginia, the survey results were taken as further confirmation of Michigan’s struggles. Population stagnation is part of the reason Michigan workers earn less than average in the nation, and why housing values increase slower here.
It’s also part of the reason businesses struggle to find workers. The state’s economy is hobbled by the issue, as businesses already facing worker shortages hesitate to expand, and out-of-state companies looking for new locations opt for states where they know they can find employees.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launched a “Growing Michigan Together Council” in June to search for answers to the problem. Both Barauh and Business Leaders for Michigan President Jeff Donofrio serve on the panel. The results of the survey, which polled 600 Michigan residents between the ages of 18 and 29, will be forwarded to the population council.
In the survey, 64% of the young adults saw themselves living in Michigan in 10 years; 26% saw themselves living elsewhere, and 10 percent weren’t sure. White residents were more likely to expect to stay in Michigan than Black respondents (69% to 55%).
Those most likely to say they’re staying? Those who’ve tied the knot. Married respondents in the survey were half as likely as the unmarried to say they were considering leaving Michigan (15%, compared to 30%).
The adults in the survey were asked to weigh social policies into where they want to live, and the majority of them leaned left on social issues, supporting LGBTQ and abortion rights as well as some type of gun control. In some recent advertising campaigns targeting out-of-state residents, the Whitmer administration has leaned into promoting the progressive social policies implemented here since Democrats took control of the Legislature this year.
The survey found that college-educated young adults are more likely to expect to move away. Donofrio said the state needs to find a way to offer more and diverse jobs for young professionals to curb that movement. “We should all be concerned that college educated folks are leaving the state at a higher rate than others,” he said.
Baruah of the Chamber said “it’s not rocket science” to figure out what young people want, because it’s similar to that of their parents. According to the survey, young adults want “good education, good schools both for themselves and their children, good, solid, workable infrastructure and safe communities and low crime,” he said.
And most importantly, they want good career opportunities in fields and businesses they consider growing and vibrant, Baruah said.
“You cannot attract and retain people unless they have good job opportunities,” Baruah said.
While Michigan can’t turn up the thermostat to attract people who don’t like cold winters, it can do a better job of promoting its assets, such as the Great Lakes and other natural resources, Baruah said. “We take that for granted sometimes,” he said.