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Almost No One Is Moving To Michigan

Kevin Breen gets the occasional you-gotta-be-kidding stare when telling people he moved from the Boston area to southeastern Michigan -- voluntarily.

"They ask if I had to, and I say no, it was a choice," the 41-year-old said Monday. "We could have gone elsewhere."

Breen arrived in July, becoming a school administrator in Grosse Pointe Woods near Detroit. He took up residence in neighboring Grosse Pointe Park with his wife and two children, ages 9 and 6.

Survey Highlights

Michigan-related highlights from the Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey:

• 80.9 percent of Michigan's 9.9 million residents were born in the state, third-highest nationally.

• 1.3 percent of Michigan's residents in 2007 migrated from other states during the previous year.

Attracting productive, well-educated families like the Breens from other states is crucial for breathing new life into Michigan's sagging economy. But a U.S. Census Bureau report being released Tuesday suggests it remains an uphill climb.

The data shows that 80.9 percent of the people living in Michigan last year were born there. Only Louisiana (82.2 percent) and New York (82.1 percent) had higher shares of native-born residents.

And the Detroit area's figure of 81.9 percent was highest in the nation among large metropolitan regions, followed by New York City and Chicago.

High proportions of native-born residents are common in the Upper Midwest. Pennsylvania trails Michigan at 79.4 percent, followed by Ohio (77.8), Illinois (77.4), Iowa and Wisconsin (both 75.2).

The figures were from the 2007 American Community Survey, the government's annual survey of about 3 million households nationwide.

An optimist might say such numbers partly reflect home-state satisfaction. After all, Michigan residents are free to move elsewhere if they're not happy.

"I think the fact that so many people have chosen to stay and live and work in Michigan and raise families here is a testimony to the fundamental strength of our state," said Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Census Highlights

The Census Bureau on Tuesday released the 2007 American Community Survey, the government's annual estimates of social, economic and housing characteristics for the nation.

• Median home values increased 5 percent from 2006 to 2007, a significantly lower rate than in recent years.

• Hawaii had the highest median home value, at 555,400, while West Virginia and Mississippi tied for the lowest, at 96,000. The national estimate was 194,300.

• Despite higher gas prices, the average commute to work increased from 25.0 minutes in 2006 to 25.3 minutes in 2007.

• Commuters in New York state had the longest average journey to work, at 31.5 minutes; workers in North Dakota had the shortest, at 16.1 minutes.

• Immigrants made up 27.4 percent of the population in California, the largest of any state. West Virginia has the lowest percentage, at 1.3 percent. The national average was 12.6 percent.

• Nearly 43 percent of Californians spoke a language other than English at home, the highest rate in the nation; West Virginia had the lowest rate, at 2.3 percent. The national share was 19.7 percent.

• Wyoming had the highest share of high school graduates, at 91.2 percent of the population age 25 and older; Mississippi had the lowest, at 78.5 percent. The national share was 84.5 percent, up slightly from 2006.

• The District of Columbia had the highest share of those with a bachelor's degree, at 47.5 percent, while West Virginia had the lowest, at 17.3 percent. The national share was 27.5 percent, up from 27.0 percent in 2006.

• The District of Columbia also had the highest share of those with advanced college degrees, at 26 percent, while North Dakota and Mississippi tied for the lowest, at 6.4 percent. The national share was 10.1 percent, statistically unchanged from 2006.

• Alaska had the highest share of veterans, at 15.4 percent of the population, while New York had the lowest, at 7 percent.

• Women in the District of Columbia get married the latest in life, at a median age for first-timers of 29.9 years. Women in Utah get married the earliest, at a median age of 22.8 years. Nationally, the median age was 26. The rankings for D.C. and Utah were the same for men, though the median age for getting married was older for men in both places.

• South Carolina had the highest share of housing that was mobile homes, at 18.2 percent, while the District of Columbia had none.

But fondness for home cooking isn't the likeliest explanation, demographers said, noting the comparatively low proportion of native-born residents in states experiencing boom times. Just 28.5 percent of Nevada's residents are originally from there. Alaska's rate is 41.7 percent, followed by 41.9 in Florida, 42.2 in Arizona and 43.4 in Wyoming.

Many of the low-percentage states are Sun Belt retiree havens. Still, they are drawing plenty of working families as well -- sometimes at Michigan's expense.

"We're just not attracting people from outside to any great extent," said Kurt Metzger, research director for the United Way of Southeast Michigan. "We send many more people away than we bring in."

Additional numbers from the census report underscore the point.

Just 1.3 percent of Michigan's residents came from other states during the 2006-07 year, while 2.5 percent of all U.S. residents migrated from one state to another in that period.

Among the highly prized 25-to-34 age group, 2.5 percent of those in Michigan moved from other states in 2006-07 -- about 31,100 people. Meanwhile, North Carolina drew 70,400 newcomers in the same age bracket -- 5.9 percent of that state's total.

Michigan is losing the battle to attract young newcomers with four-year college degrees and to retain graduates from its own colleges and universities, said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., a nonpartisan research organization in Ann Arbor.

"We're just getting clobbered," he said.

Mike Bahr, 35, left for Chicago after graduating from Michigan State University in the mid-1990s. He knows "a ton" of other Michigan natives who did likewise.

He'd like to return home, but is among those still seeking the right job opportunity.

"I'm not willing to take just anything to get back there," said Bahr, associate publisher for a magazine group. "I want something interesting and creative and compelling."

But the situation isn't hopeless. Reviving the economy obviously would help. Yet some recent arrivals say Michigan already has plenty going for it, a message often lost amid the gloomy headlines.

Even in comfortable Grosse Pointe Park, housing is much less pricey than in comparable suburban Boston neighborhoods, Breen said. The climate is similar to New England's, and the region's bounty of cultural and recreational amenities is a big plus.

"We've been to arts festivals and jazz festivals and car races -- all sorts of things," he said.

More affordable living costs also were a selling point for Aric Haley, 32, who moved to Dearborn last year from northern California. He's a software consultant and his wife has enrolled at the University of Michigan at Dearborn.

"It was just insane what the cost of housing was in California," Haley said.

The Detroit area's ethnic and cultural diversity helped offset its reputation for economic problems and crime, he said.

"Hopefully Michigan can get over its identity crisis and feel better about itself," he said.


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