I read an article on Facebook, recently posted by a friend, that really made me think . . . so I thought it might be something for others to think about, too. 

The cost of living is a concept many times neglected as we talk to students, and often our own children, about choosing work and careers.  We look at wages and salary, demand, and education requirements.  Those are great places to start the conversations but there is so much more to choosing where employees might choose to work.  What companies are working on behalf of your cost of living variables?  Where are those locations that will allow you, or are working to improve housing, healthcare and childcare, to make your wages get the most for you and your family?

It is true that the national unemployment rate has been decreasing every year for the past 10 years.  Michigan’s unemployment rate has followed the same trend with the unemployment rate falling below the national rate several times in the last four years.  Wage increases in Michigan have averaged from +3.4% to +7.5% over the same 10 years.  This is drastically different from my last few years of teaching when we fought to get any wage increase at all! 

So, why do so many people feel discomfort when faced with the politically charged news about the great condition of the economy? 

For many, it is about the cost of living.

The article my friend posted on Facebook was by Ann Lowery. Ann Lowery, writer for The Atlantic, helped put together the factors that helped me understand the answer to this “Why are we not feeling more comfortable” question.  Her article, The Great Affordability Crisis Facing Breaking America, (The Atlantic, February, 2020) claims,

“In one of the best decades the American economy has ever recorded, families were bled dry by landlords, hospital administrators, university bursars, and child-care centers. For millions, a roaring economy felt precarious or downright terrible.”

  • Many of us probably have held conversations with people in the last couple of years regarding how fast and easy it seems to be to sell a home or property.  BUT the other side of that is that it is not so easy to buy a home or property.  Those high prices will easily eat up any profit you might make from your sale.  Housing, and the lack of, is causing some distress for our communities’ ability to relocate new employees or for current employees to upgrade housing in the area.
  • Some of our communities have booming business.  Businesses in need of employees.  But those communities have concerns about attracting employees and more business because of the lack of or quality of housing.
  • Healthcare, and the related crisis in every corner of that industry, is in the news EVERY DAY!  Healthcare and housing with the related expenses are two reasons that the article by states that Amy Lowery says,

‘ . . . despite all the wealth this country has generated. Fully one in three households is classified as “financially fragile.”’

Clare, Isabella, and Gratiot Counties all are reported as having greater than 50% of households that cannot afford basic necessities by the East Michigan Council of Governments (Data from Map by Michigan Future, Inc. in EMCOG, 2017 report).

  • NOW, positive new about the Great Lakes Bay Region.  I am very proud and encouraged by the various positions of employers and educators on the cost of a university education.  We have three terrific universities with Central Michigan University, Saginaw Valley University, and Northwood, as well as Alma College, all maintaining high standards for students and businesses.  Their education is worth the cost. Whenever possible and desired our students should obtain that university degree.  Data shows it will produce higher wages over time (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm).  But with great Community Colleges, such as Mid Michigan Community College and Delta College available for Associates Degree programs and transfer programs to the universities, as well as short-term training programs in high demand fields students have terrific opportunities to obtain good employment with lower costs.  They can obtain start-out positions quickly and then make important decisions about their career paths while earning and learning on the job.
  • Another big positive for our area is that it appears that employers are trying to do what they can to encourage workers to stay, learn, and earn in the Great Lakes Bay Region.  Many of them seem to understand that they need to be politically active.  Their political activity is highly publicized when it involves moving facilities or employee contracts so many do not know the level of activity companies are trying to use on their behalf of employees in terms of benefits! Healthcare costs are huge and much time and money is spent by business politically to provide lower costs for everyone.
  • Employers are trying to add and improve housing, reduce healthcare costs, provide tuition reimbursements and support childcare support programs.  For example, Mid Michigan Health and Biolife Plasma Services offer many employees opportunities to advance their financial situations via education through tuition reimbursement.  Rising Tide grants in Beaverton and Gladwin have funds dedicated to the study and improvement of housing.
  • Companies such as Vantage Plastics, truly value their employees role in their own families. Vantage Plastics was awarded as an ALICE Hero (ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed individuals). Part of the reason for the award was their plans to partner with the Arenac Community Center to provide a closer daycare site so parents can visit their children during work breaks.  They also hope to offer childcare as an employee benefit.
  • More positive news comes from comparisons of the Great Lakes Bay Region to locations the Millennials and GenZ workers think might be desirable. Compared to the GLBR all locations identified as “popular” have higher costs of living. And in almost every case the increased wage for comparable careers does not make up for that difference.
  • Dallas has a 3% higher cost of living. Miami 17%, Seattle 20%, Phoenix 22%, Boston 42%, and San Francisco and Washington D.C. both have 63% higher costs of living than the GLBR! New York is crazy high at 86% higher!

I titled this article, “Teaching each other . . .” because I think we need to share resources, encourage political change at home, on social media, and at work, and appreciate what we all are doing to have better lives. These new generations of workers have a much greater desire to know the “big picture” when looking for a place to learn, earn, and stay with their families.

If you would like to read Ann Lowery’s article the link is here:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/great-affordability-crisis-breaking-america/606046/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

There are a couple of very good reports you might like to read. Both were presented at the ALICE Summit 2020, held at SVSU this month.

http://www.emcog.org/downloads/alice_2019_update_in_the_emcog_region.pdf

Title and paragraph 1 of the EMCOG ALICE report

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52fbd39ce4b060243dd722d8/t/5c902a7e971a186c0a29dff2/1552951937149/HR19ALICE_Report_MI_Refresh_02.26.19b_Final_Hires+%283%29.pdf

Cover of the ALICE in Michigan: A Financial Hardship Study