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Can’t find Millennials to hire?

February 9, 2016

By Joe DeSantis, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

It’s news because, unfortunately, it’s not news.

Michigan is continuing to lose its millennial population, and although the hemorrhage of people that started in 2009 has receded, the bleeding continues. If your organization is one of the many that are having trouble filling their open positions, you probably suspected as much. The latest numbers pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau will confirm your suspicion.

Michigan suffered a net domestic migration loss of nearly 39,000 people between July 2014 and July 2015. “Domestic migration” refers to the number of people who move into or out of a state, from or to another state.

Domestic migration is not the same as net population. Net population also counts births, deaths and international migration; taking those factors into account (particularly the arrival of 24,000 international immigrants in the state), Michigan actually squeezed out a net population gain of 6,270 people or .06% of its total population of 9.9 million.

Domestic migration is often seen as the best way to measure how a state compares to other states in its desirability as a place to live, because it implies that at least some degree of choice goes into the decision to move. In that context the news for Michigan continues to be not very good.

Of particular interest to employers are the domestic migration figures for the millennial generation. The standard wisdom today is that your state is only desirable to the extent that college-educated Millenials think it is. The figures show that for the 22 to 34-year old cohort, Michigan suffered a net domestic migration loss of 0.7%. Although that is a smaller loss in terms of percent compared to recent years, it still means the trend is negative, not positive. Considering that the state’s unemployment rate (5.1%) is actually lower than the national average, it would not have been unreasonable to hope for such a reversal. But that did not happen.

But like the kid who comes home with a black eye from a schoolyard fight and proudly exclaims, “You should see the other guy!”, the fact is that while Michigan’s negative net migration figure is among the worst in the country it is not actually the worst. New York actually has the dubious distinction of leading the country in negative net migration with a loss of 170,000 people, and Michigan’s neighbor Illinois is second at 105,000.

The problem is actually regional, and in those terms the big losers are the Midwest and the Northeast and the big winners are the South and the Southwest. Michigan is one of 12 Midwest states (i.e., the Great Lakes plus the northern plains states as far west as North Dakota and South Dakota).

Florida was the individual state with the highest domestic migration (200,000), followed by Texas with 170,000.

Michigan demographer Kurt Metzger points out that despite Michigan’s much improved unemployment rate—it was12% five years ago—the state continues to lose out to states that young professionals find more exciting to live in. “You have places like Austin, Houston, Dallas, places with very dynamic economies . . . Denver and Salt Lake City are investing in regional transit. These cities and regions are getting the importance of investing in infrastructure. Millennials want bike lanes and they want mass transit, all these things we keep hearing from Millennials.”

Lou Glazer, president and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc.,  said that Michigan is losing the race for young, college-educated professionals. The state ranks 34th in the percentage of adults with college degrees. Detroit ranks 159th out of 171 cities over 150,000 population in its proportion of 25 to 34-year olds with college degrees. Grand Rapids does better in that category, ranking 59th. Mr. Glazer’s point is that we live in a knowledge-driven economy, and the common factor among regions and states with strong economies is their high level of educational attainment. “Young talent particularly are concentrating in vibrant central cities,” he said. In that context Michigan, as the historical home of automobile manufacturing with its plentiful (although now bygone) high-paying blue collar jobs, pays the price today for a cultural legacy that in years past placed less value on educational attainment than on hands-on physical work. It is a proud legacy but not one that encourages young college graduates to stick around. And yet it is very difficult to change.

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