Perhaps the single best single indicator of "quality of life" differences between states is migration. That is, where are people moving from and to, and how many are doing so?
The reasons people move are many, but most can be summed up in one word: opportunity. Among other things, current migration patterns suggest that critics who claim that right-to-work laws reduce economic opportunity have some ‘splainin’ to do.
For years, more people have departed Michigan than came here, a trend that accelerated during the last decade. Things have improved a little bit recently, but Michigan was still the only state in the union to lose population between the 2000 and 2010 Census counts.
Of the nine states that saw the greatest population growth in that decade, six have a right-to-work law and a seventh — Colorado — enjoyed a quasi-RTW status thanks to its "labor peace act," which makes it difficult for unions to extract fee payments from non-members in a workplace. (Right-to-work laws do not affect collective bargaining, other than to prohibit labor contracts that make union dues or fees a condition of employment.)
To be sure, many factors go into individual migration decisions (high growth states also have more days of sunshine than Michigan, for example), but scholarly studies of the issue using sophisticated statistical techniques to isolate the different factors nevertheless suggest that having right-to-work protections for employees has a positive impact on a state’s in-bound migration.
For example, a 2010 study by Mackinac Center for Public Policy adjunct scholar Richard Vedder examined other possible explanations including climate, taxes, population and the “occupational composition of the workforce,” and still concluded, “Without exception, in all the estimations, a statistically significant positive relationship … was observed between the presence of right-to-work laws and net migration.” Mackinac Center analyses of Michigan migration also discovered a “revealed preference” for right-to-work states.
My colleague James Hohman reports that from 2000 to 2009, right-to-work states gained nearly 5 million people from non-right-to-work states. From Census to Census, right-to-work states grew by 15.5 percent, while non-right-to-work states grew by only 6.1 percent. (This includes natural increases and international migration.)
Legislators struggling with the issue now are concerned about the reaction of voters — but those who “vote with their feet” seem to support such a law, a tendency that should frighten right-to-work opponents here given Michigan’s recent population decline. To emphasize this point, falling population due to people seeking greener economic pastures is not good for home values here.
As those individuals who have get-up-and-go increasingly choose to do just that, it also drains the state of their talents and wealth. The migrants stop buying at local stores and paying taxes to the state and local governments. The Tax Foundation estimated that from 2007 to 2008 Michigan lost $2.5 billion in gross income as a result of net outbound migration, second only to California.
And then there are the personal costs. How many parents and grandparents in recent years have had to sadly wave goodbye as they watched their children’s U-Hauls begin the long journey to Florida or Texas?
Michigan needs bold steps to reverse a depressing trend of outbound migration, and a right-to-work law just might do it. Nothing would send a more resounding message to potential investors and job providers that Michigan really has cleaned up its act and is well and truly open for business.
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