What It Doesn’t Take To Grow Michigan

In a recent Grand Rapids Press column, Lou Glazer argued that there's a correlation between a state getting more college graduates and enjoying higher statewide income levels.

However, Glazer uses only snapshot views of what the per capita personal income or economic output is in a state right now. He ignores trends. But you can't just wear a white suit to become Mark Twain, you have to grow to the role.

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The U.S. Census Bureau publishes state-by-state information on the percentage of the population with a bachelor's degree, which according to Glazer is the key to state economic growth. Matching growth in graduates with state income statistics tells a different story than what Glazer is expressing.

Between 2005 and 2008, the 10 states that grew their graduate base the most performed no better than the bottom 10 states in per capita personal income growth: The average income growths for both groups was 14 percent. So much for growing the economy by growing graduates

If we look at states with the fastest growth in per capita personal income compared to those with the slowest income growth, the facts become even more troublesome for Mr. Glazer: The 10 states where the people's incomes were growing the fastest saw the number of degreed residents increase by just 2 percent on average, while the 10 slowest income-growth states had 2.8 percent more grads at the end of that period. So much for fast-growing states growing their graduate populations.

In the past we have examined other indicators of state economic and income growth in the light of the number of residents with degrees and found similar patterns. Indeed, the only way to support Mr. Glazer's campaign with empirical data is to do just what he does, which is ignore trends and only look at snapshots. That may be a good lobbying technique for a particular special interest, but it's a lousy way to make public policy for an entire state.

If the reader is interested in looking at factors which actually are correlated with faster income growth, he or she may want to look at which states have Right-to-Work laws or lower tax burdens.