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Buck up, Michigan. Prices remain a bummer but there are positive signs

Michigan outline on a chalkboard
As 2023 ends, we take a look at how the state fared this year, and whether our soar mood matches what the economic and demographic numbers say. (Shutterstock)
  • Michigan’s jobless rate of 4.1 percent is low — but 39 states and the nation as a whole are better
  • For the first time in five years, the state’s population rose
  • COVID-19’s lethal impact continues to wane, with a steep drop in deaths

Michigan residents seem angry.

On the eve of a presidential election year, the economy is bumming us out and pollsters are saying that sour mood is making Michigan a toss-up state that will be crucial in November’s elections.

But what’s the reality? Does the data lend support to the harsh vibes? We looked at Michigan’s year through three critical lenses. And we start with…

The economy

This is the classic Good News vs. Bad News category.


By most measures, and if you compare to past years, things are going well: the state’s jobless rate is a tick over 4 percent (yay!) and more and more people are either working or looking for work (yay again).

That’s a long way from early 2020, when the state had one of the highest jobless rates in the country (22.6 percent) at the start of the pandemic. But the economy has roared back to life here and across the nation.

Even so, Michigan’s 4.1 percent jobless rate in October, while low, has been rising and ranks 40th in the nation, meaning 39 other states have an even lower rate. The national jobless rate is at 3.9 percent.


As for labor force participation — the percentage of working age people in the labor force — Michigan has been a laggard for years.

Affected by an older population, higher rates of worker disability and other limitations such as access to affordable child care, Michigan ranks 32nd in labor force participation with nearly 62 percent of eligible workers either holding a job or looking for one in October.

That our rate is rising is good news for a state struggling with worker shortages in many key industries. This marks the first time since the pandemic that the rate has hit pre-pandemic levels. Employers have long lamented that the state’s lower rate — every other Great Lakes state is higher — has starved the economy of thousands of potential workers.


The bad news has been relentless inflation, pushing prices on food, vehicles and rent higher, and hitting an annualized rate of 9.1 percent in June 2022. That rate has since eased considerably. 

The annual U.S. inflation rate fell to 3.1 percent last month, a sign the nation may avoid a recession. That’s boosted stock prices (yay, your 401(k)) but lower inflation doesn't mean lower prices. It just means prices are rising more slowly. Consumers are reminded daily how prices have leapt for items such as food. 


A 1-pound bag of potato chips cost $4.12 in 2020, just before the pandemic, and now costs $5.80. Over the same period, the price of ground beef has risen 53 percent, the price of chicken breast is up 67 percent and a bottle of red wine now costs, on average, about $13.30 in the Midwest, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up 27 percent.

Rents are up too, according to real estate company Zillow, rising 17 percent in the last two years in Grand Rapids, 16 percent in Ann Arbor and 21 percent in Detroit.


Yet average weekly wages in Michigan only rose 6.7 percent from mid-2021 to mid-2023. At $1,220, they remain 92 percent of the national average of $1,332, which grew 7.3 percent since mid-2021.

And if you want to buy a home? Good luck.

Interest rates that were once 3 percent are now hovering around 7 percent, pushing borrowing costs way up. And though there was a small dip in average home prices earlier this year, they have since climbed.

In October the average home price in Michigan was $233,858 — 36 percent higher than just before the pandemic (the national average, $346,653, is up 41 percent over that time).




Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has turned her focus to finding ways to boost the state’s population, necessary for the state to fill worker shortages in a state with an aging population. Michigan has ranked 49th in population growth since 1990, ahead of only West Virginia.

On Tuesday, the state got a glimmer of good news: For the first time in five years, the state’s population grew, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census. The state now has 10,037,261 people, up 3,980 from the year before. 

That’s the good news. But it’s still down 40,413 people from 2020. And the state still recorded a net loss of more than 15,000 residents to other states.

Part of the recent increase in state population was also rooted in a smaller decrease: a steep drop in the number of COVID-19 deaths this year  (COVID-19 deaths fell from 9,325 in 2022 to 1,926 so far this year).

Another good sign is the state’s ability to attract immigrants from across the globe. Over 22,800 people moved to Michigan this year from abroad, the highest number to come to the state since 2016 and triple the 7,044 who came in 2021.

Experts say immigration is crucial for the state because its aging population and declining birth rate (there were more deaths than births for the third consecutive year) means any growth in population will not be found in the maternity ward.




The pandemic likely remains the biggest player in the overall health of Michigan and the nation: It has caused nearly 39,300 deaths in the state since 2020, affecting population, job losses and for a time hurting the economy. Rampant inflation then descended following the massive infusion of government aid and the supply-chain bottlenecks created across the globe by the coronavirus and the reactions to it.

But now, nearly four years after the virus hit, there is good news.

In 2023, the COVID-related death toll stands at 1,926, about the number who typically die from the flu or pneumonia. That tally remains a tragedy for those who died and their loved ones. But it’s less than one-quarter of the number who died in 2022 and one-seventh the number who died from COVID-19 in Michigan in 2021.


And there’s reason to believe these trendlines will continue. Although hospitalizations for COVID-19 doubled from the beginning of November until the end (from 425 to 864), the rate of deaths has barely budged. That indicates the current variants cause less severe illness and doctors now have better therapies for treating those who require a hospital admission.

In late 2022 and into 2023, the state’s hospitals were averaging about 1,100 COVID-19 patients and in January, the state averaged 15 COVID-19 deaths a day.

But in recent weeks, despite the increase in hospitalizations, there have been fewer deaths; the state has not recorded more than nine on any day since there were 10 on April 30. The average since then has been less than 3 COVID-19 deaths a day.


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