New state agency committed to progress

At the Michigan League for Public Policy, we do the research and analysis that will help fuel economic justice in Michigan. But that research is nothing if we aren’t listening to what people need.

That’s why, when we developed our Owner’s Manual for Michigan, we toured the state and talked to a lot of Michiganders. They had a great deal to say about what they thought would help drive our state forward. And really, their ideas all boiled down to a core American value: Progress.

What does progress mean to them?

Living a life where they can work and raise a family at the same time without fearing whether they’d have to choose between paying for child care and paying for groceries.

Getting a chance to grow and develop in the workplace, to build their skills and advance their careers.

Having the ability to work hard, but to take time off when they’re sick without being penalized.

Living in safe homes and communities, finding financial security, and getting the opportunity to build a stronger foundation for their families.

All those goals should be achievable in our state.

But we know there are systemic barriers in place that keep many Michiganders from being able to thrive, which is why we worked so hard to make sure we could make strong policy recommendations in the Owner’s Manual, like increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, supporting the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund, strengthening the paid sick leave law, and boosting funding for adult education.

Fortunately, we’re not the only ones listening to the people of Michigan.

The new Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which launched last week, is listening hard and making plans to clear the way so all Michiganders can achieve their goals.

LEO also has the value of progress at its core. Progress can’t happen without opportunity, and the department is dedicated to opening doors for workers and their families.

That is no small challenge, as Michigan is in the midst of an economic struggle.

According to the ALICE Project from the Michigan Association of United Ways, 61% of workers in our state earn less than $20 per hour as the cost of food, housing and child care continue to increase. In Alpena County, 44% of households are struggling to make ends meet. Household incomes in Alpena are below the state average and the unemployment rate is higher than the state average.

Is LEO up to the task? We think so.

And it’s because they understand that progress is a complex process. That progress is about growing businesses, yes, but it’s also about supporting families so they can thrive in school and at work. It’s about building communities that attract and retain talented workers. It’s about ensuring safety and security so those workers can focus on their goals. Progress is about people.

So we applaud Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration for bringing LEO to life. We look forward to helping the department find solutions and opportunities that give all Michiganders a boost. We also look forward to hearing from you about what YOU think will help Michigan grow stronger.

Join our Owner’s Manual effort by visiting mlpp.org/michmanual-about/ and tell us your ideas.

Laura Millard Ross is a communications associate at the Michigan League for Public Policy.