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Michigan: Birth and Demise of the Middle Class

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Friday, June 24, 2011   

LANSING, Mich. - The so-called birthplace of the middle class may be the first place to lose it, according to a new report which finds Michigan workers are falling behind the rest of the nation in income, benefits, education and other factors that define the middle-class lifestyle.

Michigan has lost 580,000 jobs and an estimated $610 million in tax revenue in the past few years, the study says, and the state's 25- to 34-year-old workforce has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Heather McGhee, Washington director for the national policy center Demos, says policy decisions and budget cuts are chipping away at Michigan's middle class.

"In 1980, real typical earnings for Michiganders were nearly 18 percent higher than the national median. That figure has been stuck. Today, working Michiganders earn less than what they earned three decades ago - only about $35,000 a year. Now, workers are earning less than the national level."

The report comes in advance of next week's "Speak Out for Good Jobs Now" town-hall meetings being held in Detroit and across the nation. The report highlights earnings, education, rising income inequality, costs of raising a family, union participation, insurance, benefits and other factors.

Cuts to higher education and significant increases in tuition rates are making it more difficult to access a four-year degree, McGhee says. Michigan college tuition rates are almost 44 percent higher than the national average, and nearly 60 percent of those who graduate enter the workforce with college loan debt of $25,000 or more.

Aaron Quinney of Lansing says he has been under-employed since getting his degree in 2008, working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. He says his father worked for General Motors and was able to provide a middle class upbringing, but he's not convinced he'll be able to do the same.

"Thanks to my parents, I find myself more educated than they were at this time in their lives, yet I find myself in a tougher financial situation than they were at my age: No consistent job and a lot of school debt."

Demos and Progress Michigan released the State of Michigan's Middle Class report, which is online at demos.org.


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