If you seek a pleasant peninsula, U-Haul will take you to Florida

Growing Michigan Together Council did not seek ideas for growing Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Growing Michigan Together Council last summer. It was charged with recommending reforms to grow Michigan’s population.

Populations rise and fall across states over time. There are only a few factors that impact the rate of change of a state’s population, but inbound migration from other states is a big one. For a number of reasons, people choose to move to or from particular states. Michigan’s population has been, at best, stagnant when it comes to this type of migration.

Consider some interesting statistics from residential mover U-Haul. In 2023, U-Haul clients’ top destinations among the 48 contiguous states were Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Four out of the five top population growth states listed in annual Census Bureau data released last December also appear in U-Haul’s list of the top destination states for its customers. There appears to be a connection between state-to-state migration patterns and overall population growth.

Michigan-specific price data from U-Haul sheds light on the revealed preferences of Michigan movers. According to the firm’s website, it would cost 57% more to rent a 26-foot truck to move from Grand Rapids or Lansing to Miami than to move from Miami to either city. For a Detroit-to-Miami move with the same pick-up day, the price difference is 37%. There are wide gulfs in price between other Michigan and Florida cities, too. These differences demonstrate the higher demand of Michigan citizens trying to get out of Dodge.

States like South Carolina and Florida have long attracted in-migrants from states like Michigan. The Anderson Economic Group used Internal Revenue Service data to calculate that from mid-2020 to mid-2021 Florida was “the most notable recipient of Michigan migration, netting 7,800 former tax-paying residents” who took their $1.4 billion in taxable income to the Sunshine State.

Only days after Whitmer’s population council released its report last December, the Census Bureau announced that Michigan had microscopic population gains of 0.04% from 2022 to 2023. South Carolina and Florida saw increases of 1.6% and 1.7%, respectively, more than 40 times the growth rate of the Great Lake State.

What drives population growth and interstate migration? Why are Southern and Southeast states popular destinations while Michigan is not? The governor could have asked the council to look into this. Instead, her executive order assumed certain causes drive population growth. For instance, Whitmer’s order told the council to find ways to improve educational outcomes, attract talent and build infrastructure, which are simply assumed to have a positive impact on population growth. It’s as if the governor already knew which solutions she wanted the council to identify.

The order also mandated the council to “define the gap between Michigan and the best performing states on the goals identified by the Council.” But those goals were effectively pre-determined to fall within the parameters mandated in the order, which covered jobs, infrastructure and education.

The council did seek information about Michigan’s performance gaps on different measures compared to other states. The consultant, Guidehouse, identified six peer states. Despite listing lots of data to help choose these particular states (Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington), Guidehouse’s selection criteria seem inconsistent, and the consultant warned in its own publication, “While this report attempts to identify patterns, it does not imply a causal relationship between state and local revenues and between state and local revenues and expenditures and population growth rates.”

In other words, the governor’s executive order dictated limitations on finding what works to grow a population. The council then turned to a consultant to help find states with which Michigan had performance gaps that allegedly needed to be filled by this or that government expenditure or program. This is the wrong way to go about finding solutions to Michigan’s stagnant population growth.

That is why the Mackinac Center turns to academic scholarship. It is produced by college professors and others who work to isolate policy choices that drive population growth or interstate migration. Policies that promote economic liberty facilitate economic growth, drive interstate migration and spur population growth, a sweep of the academic literature indicates. These policies can include reasonable tax burdens and structures, effective labor market regulation and quality public services.

There is more than ample evidence about where people choose to move and why. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on a new council, Whitmer could simply have turned to academic explanations. Instead, she wasted millions on a report with conclusions that seemed as though they were largely pre-determined, offering little more than a call to bigger and more expensive government.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.