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Is Michigan’s Economy Back?

Marquette Park Michigan

Consumer confidence in Michigan is approaching record levels, begging the question: Has the state’s economy recovered?


Charles Ballard

Yes … and no, said Charles Ballard, Michigan State University professor of economics and director of MSU’s quarterly State of the State Survey.

In the spring survey, released today, 60 percent of residents rated their financial situation as good or excellent, the best since 2002 when the highest-ever mark of 66 percent was recorded. Further, 69 percent believe they’ll be better off a year from now – just off the high of 72 percent in 1999.

Those numbers jibe with a robust employment picture. Some 450,000 jobs have been added since Michigan’s economy bottomed out in early 2010, and the state’s unemployment rate finally drew even with the national rate this spring.

But Michigan is still 400,000 jobs below its peak level reached in 2000, Ballard said, and the distribution of income is much more unequal than it was a few decades ago.

“Is Michigan’s economy back? This is a classic case of a glass that is half full and half empty,” Ballard said. “Although the state’s economy has made big strides in the past six years, the losses of the first decade of this century were huge, and continue to resonate.”

Gov. Snyder: Once a nerd …

Instead of riding the economic wave, Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval ratings dropped in the spring. Just 36 percent rated Snyder’s performance as “excellent” or “good,” which is down slightly from 38 percent from the last survey in fall 2014.

What gives? Ballard offers three main theories:

  • “The first is a permanent effect: Snyder is a self-described nerd. He’s not a media rock star, nor does he try to be. His technocratic approach has much to recommend it, but it does not generate a lot of excitement. Thus, his favorable ratings have never been extraordinarily high.”
  • “The second has to do with the timing of this particular survey. It was taken at a time of the debacle associated with the failure of the road-funding ballot initiative.”
  • “The third is that the economic growth has been unbalanced, with much bigger gains at the top of the income scale than at the bottom. So it’s not necessarily surprising that his favorable ratings are only 22 percent among those with household incomes below $20,000, and only 31 percent among those with household incomes between $20,000 and $50,000.”

The telegenic president

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings in Michigan improved to 40 percent from 35 percent in the last survey.

Many believe Obama is having a good year; his ratings have risen in several national polls after slumping in 2014.

“In addition,” Ballard said, “I think one reason why he gets more ‘excellent’ ratings than Snyder is that he is more telegenic. I think Obama excites people’s emotions more than Snyder does. But emotions can be excited in a negative way as well as a positive way.”

It’s also difficult to avoid the conclusion that race plays a factor, Ballard said. For the state as a whole, Obama received a “poor” rating from 33 percent. However, 38 percent of whites gave the president a poor rating, while only 7 percent of blacks did.

The survey also gauged the most important problems facing state lawmakers, as well as trust in government. Read more about those results here.

The telephone survey of 966 Michigan adults was conducted between March 26 and June 22. The margin of error is 3.15 percent.

The State of the State Survey is the only survey conducted in Michigan designed to systematically monitor the public mood on important issues statewide. The survey has been conducted since 1994 by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. IPPSR is a unit of MSU’s College of Social Science.

– Charles Ballard, Andy Henion, Cynthia Kyle via MSU Today

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