The economic recovery from the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, is now the second longest economic expansion in United States history. This is longer than the economic growth of the Kennedy/Johnson presidencies of the 1960s. If the economy continues to grow through next July, the current expansion will surpass the 10-year internet expansion from 1991-2001 and become the longest in history, according to a CNN Money article from May 2018.

Remember what happened in the decade after 2001? Michigan lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The rise of the internet, robotics and other technological advances may have fueled an economy which brought rise to companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. but it also disrupted, as it continues to do today, older sectors of the economy: manufacturing, retail stores, etc. Back when I first moved to Berrien County in 1993, Orchards Mall and many other malls across the country were thriving. Now? Malls are struggling to remain relevant. In the 1980s, Sears, K-Mart, Hudsons and other traditional mall anchors dominated retail. Now, apparently Americans really do think that online retailers have “just what I need.”

While the economy has expanded and dramatically changed because of technology, something else has happened. Michigan was once a national leader in education from kindergarten through college. Now? Michigan ranks 35th in fourth-grade reading skills and 38th in fourth-grade math, per Bridge Magazine, April 10, 2018.

According to Michigan State University, it now costs an incoming freshman almost $25,000 a year to be a full-time Spartan. Why is college so expensive? Maybe because in 2010-2011 Michigan invested nearly one and a half billion of its general fund dollars in higher education. The budget for 2018-2019 states that Michigan’s general fund commitment to higher education for 2018-2019 will be $400 million LESS than eight years ago, per the Senate Fiscal Agency on June 29, 2018.

It is true that during that same time, Michigan’s Legislature increased the school aid fund’s spending on higher education from $300,000 to $500 million. Money that used to be spent on K-12 is now diverted to higher education. Michigan’s public schools would have $330 more per student if that fund had not been hijacked to band-aid the higher education budget. $330 per student may not sound like much, but for districts like St. Joseph or Lakeshore, that equates to a loss of about $1 million per year.

Not that higher education has reaped a great windfall. Michigan’s total spending from all sources on higher education in 2010-2011 was $1.6 billion. In 2018-2019, it is budgeted to be $1.7 billion – an increase of less than 6 percent over eight years. Certainly, not keeping pace with inflation.

Getting back to Michigan’s economy. Last fall, M-Live reported that “Michigan ranks 33rd in median household income.” Half of Michigan’s households make less than $52,492 annually. Berrien County is less than Michigan as a whole. Berrien County’s median income was slightly more than $47,000 in 2017. For the United States as a whole, the median income was just over $59,000. Michigan and Berrien County have quite a way to go to catch up to the rest of the nation.

We all know that Michigan’s roads are in bad shape. Our water and sewer infrastructure may be worse. Parchment residents are now drinking bottled water because of PFAs. Ask Flint residents if they still have concerns about water quality. The floods in Berrien County this past year show that our drains and sewers are not up to the task of dealing with significant rains or snowmelts.

The good news is that Michigan’s economy has strengthened. Help wanted signs are plentiful at retail, manufacturing and other establishments across the area. Our state’s unemployment level has improved, but remains worse than the national average. Per June 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 states had lower unemployment rates than Michigan.

How should Michigan regain its status as THE once economic powerhouse in the United States? Some folks in Lansing or aspiring to be in Lansing would lower taxes. Some have gone as far as suggesting that we eliminate the state’s personal income tax.

This is crazy talk. Michigan has disinvested in public schools, higher education, roads, and our water infrastructure for the last eight years. More of the same will not return our state to the economic powerhouse it was in the 1960s. America’s economy has changed. Michigan needs to invest for the future to pace with the changes.

Robert L. Burgess, a Michigan native, has lived in Lincoln Township since 1993. His email is: robert_l_burgess@sbcglobal.net.