I’m from Michigan, born and raised. Spent the first 18 years of my life there. Growing up, it was an ok place; it wasn’t cool like the East or West Coast, it was just smack dab in the middle of the country. The fact that you can always identify MI on a map and that you can form the lower peninsula with your hand did aid its coolness.
Growing up in the capital city, Lansing, I saw 3 things when it came to jobs:
*Michigan State University
And pretty much all the folks I knew really were involved in the latter 2 – I didn’t know many college professors, or even college graduates for that matter, outside of my teachers at school and a few of my parents friends. Both of my parents worked in state government, and most of my friends’ parents worked for GM.
Life in a town largely dominated by one industry, like the auto industry, is very interesting. You can tell when everything’s going well, and you can tell when a plant is shut down due to strike or too many parts in the pipeline or whatever. Any little hitch in the GM train would significantly impact the town, and eventually that would impact everyone, even if your family didn’t rely on GM to put food on its table.
By the time I got to high school, I really saw how dominate GM was. I knew folks whose entire families worked in the plants for generations. I went to high school directly across the street from a plant, and during our open lunch we’d frequent the same restaurants that the plant workers did. My high school even had a co-op program, where you could attend school half-day and then work in the plant half-day, sort of a head start into the life you’d eventually lead. I personally was never much interested in cars, and I knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer in the pharmaceutical industry, so I knew I had to get out of MI, not just my hometown. I figured (correctly) that there would be nothing there for me. Looking back, I’m glad I made the decision to focus on a life and career outside of MI.
Now when I go home, I see huge vacant lots where giant plants used to stand…vacant lots where thousands of people would work and provide for their families. And I see the empty businesses, forced to close because they have no customers now that so many people are out of work. The auto crisis has been more than just a cover story or debate topic in my hometown, its been a devestation.
I’ve been kind of rambling, and I’m sure you’re wondering what prompted this trip down memory lane…well, today is Michigan’s (Republican) primary, and for a hot second everyone’s attention has been on all the problems there…Highest unemployment rate in the country, home to the (failing) Big 3, ridiculous foreclosure rates and super low home prices (which could be a good thing if you’re one of the 3 people who has a job in MI)…the list goes on and on. And the (Republican) politicians swoop in and give their soundbites on how they would help fix it, yet we all know that their words are just empty promises. There’s no way they are going to focus on 1 state, out of 50, as President. So the residents of MI are left to fend for themselves, and try to survive the best way they know how. How freaking sucky is that?
I’ve always said that I would never move home, and the way the economy stands now, I couldn’t move home if I wanted to. There’s just nothing there. They spent decades thinking everything would just be fabulous forever, training the workforce to learn how to insert cogs into the system, and now its too late. The educated professional workforce has pretty much gone elsewhere, and all the manufacturing has dried up.
I just gotta wonder: why didn’t someone plan for this? Didn’t anybody think the good times where gonna come to an end eventually?