A Tale of Two Economies: Possibilities of Michigan’s Right-to-work

As Michigan’s Right-to-work (RTW) law celebrates 10 years as a statute, it also faces the possibility of repeal from the incoming Democratic majority. In this environment of uncertainty, it’s essential to look at the facts to understand the true impact of the RTW law. Based on research and personal experience, we have a real-world example of how RTW laws contribute to better economic environments for workers and residents across the United States.   

The Quad Cities is an area in southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois. As a region, it markets the amenities of both states and the four communities in the region: Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, and Rock Island and Moline, IL. The interesting thing about this area is that Iowa became a Right-to-Work state in 1947 whereas Illinois is a union strong-hold. This has created an opportunity for businesses interested in the amenities of the area to be able to choose between a Right-to-work and non-Right-to-work state for investment and expansion. 

The current president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber, Rick Baker, previously lived and worked in the Quad Cities and saw the challenges Right-to-work had for economic development in Illinois. 

“It’s not just one policy that makes an area prosper, but it starts with right-to-work,” said Baker while reflecting on his time in the Quad Cities. “As a region, it was a challenge when potential employers were looking for sites and wouldn’t consider the Illinois side of the city because of their pro-union policies.” 

Baker’s experience paints a stark picture, and the proof is in the numbers. Population growth has shifted from the Illinois side of the Quad Cities to the Iowa side. And, in the last decades, manufacturing jobs in Iowa have grown, while they’ve shrunk in Illinois. There are striking economic differences. The current median income and unemployment rate for Rock County, Illinois is $31,281 and 4.6% while in Scott County, Iowa it is $34,929 and 2.9%. Rock County sees 12.1% of persons in poverty, above the national average of 11.6%, while Scott County is at 11.1% of persons in poverty. Last, Rock County has experienced record population decreases, with the lowest recorded levels in 2011 while Scott County has had a slow and steady population growth at a rate of 4% in the last decade.

Nationally, residents of RTW states enjoy a higher level of employment. Beyond that, The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) analysis revealed that employment in the manufacturing sector increased by 10% in Right-to-work states from 2009 to 2019, over three times the 2.9% gain forced-unionism states saw over that same period.

There are several economic variables that play into a region’s prosperity. However – with the anecdotal and economic evidence it’s clear that RTW helps bring strong-paying jobs to communities. 

Share this blog and this data with your legislator today and tell them to defend RTW. Michigan is on track to become a fair tale – an enchanting land of prosperity, but if we change this law our state’s upward economy will become a short fable.