The American Dream used to mean that if you put in a hard day's work, you could expect good wages, benefits, and a better life for your kids. But the kinds of jobs that can provide a solid middle-class life in return for hard work are in short supply in Michigan—the state’s unemployment rate is one of the nation’s highest, earnings have dropped below the national median, and hard-won health and retirement benefits are being lost. The future of the middle class, which has been the backbone of Michigan’s economy for more than half a century, is at risk.
Michigan’s great middle class didn’t just happen. It was built brick by brick in the decades after World War II by the hard work of our parents and grandparents and the strength in numbers that came from the unions that represented them. Unions made sure that as Michigan’s wealth and productivity grew, so too did the income and benefits of the people who worked hard to create that wealth. For decades, the state’s prosperity was widely shared—wages increased and more employers provided their workers with health insurance, pensions, and paid time off. The middle class was also built by government policies that supported homeownership and made a college education accessible to a new generation. Parents without higher education themselves proudly scrimped and saved to send their kids to college, made possible by affordable tuition at state universities and financial aid.