It’s good that Michigan policymakers are trying to figure out how to increase the state’s population. Michigan’s been stuck at around 10 million people for a whole generation, while other places in the country have witnessed steady growth. But policymakers should start with solid premises.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council looks like it’s started with an obvious formulation. Young people are the most mobile. Thus, catering to their preferences is the way to jump-start the state’s population. Give young people what they want, and they’ll flock to Michigan.
That all makes sense, and plenty of other people seem to think it’s true. Surely that’s a solid foundation to start from, right?
Well…no. It’s not.
Data on where people move and how old they are can show whether the places that attract young people come out ahead. And they do! But they’re also attractive to other people, too.
It turns out that young people are going to the same places that other working-age adults go to.
This is a scatterplot of domestic migration for last year by age. Each dot represents a state. Delaware, which added 1.1% to its population by attracting young people and 1.4% to its population by attracting people aged 30 to 59, is in the upper right corner. Minnesota — which lost 0.7% of its population through outmigration of young people and 0.9% of its population to outmigration of people aged 30 to 59 — is in the lower left corner. Michigan is close to Minnesota in the chart, having lost 1.0% of its younger population and 0.5% of its older population to other states.
The clumping around a trend that goes up and to the right demonstrates that young people tend to be drawn to the same places that attract older people. The places young people leave are also the places older people leave.
You don’t see a lot of dots in the bottom right quadrant, where states would be if they were able to attract young people but not older people. In fact, there was only one state like that, North Dakota, which added 6,740 young people and lost 762 older people — though even that loss is within sampling errors.
Successful states attract people, not just young people. It’s understandable that lawmakers think it’s a winning strategy to target young people still figuring out where their lives are going. But the numbers don’t back that up. Michigan should look instead at policies that attract all types of people, not just one demographic.
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