Commentary
12:44 pm
Fri June 17, 2011

Decline of the Middle Class

You might expect that the Legislature, our well-paid, elected representatives, would be most keenly concerned with the economy and trying to figure out how to make things better.

Well, once in a while they do show signs of being interested in that, but yesterday … not so much. The governor was forced to postpone efforts to get approval for a new bridge over the Detroit River, a project that would cost Michigan nothing and create at least 10,000 jobs. He doesn’t yet have the votes.

Relieved of this burden, our state senators did turn to a question that evidently seems of more importance to them: wild boar hunting in Michigan. Or, to give it the term they prefer, the “sporting swine” business. The upper House’s agriculture committee yesterday happily sent three bills to the full Senate which would put us at full risk of another invasive species problem.

What the senators would do is establish game ranches where rich people with time and money on their hands can go to shoot what are now being called “feral swine,” which means, wild boars.

The state Department of Natural Resources knows better. They have issued an order banning the farming of so-called “sporting pigs” that takes effect July 8. Why? Well, wild boars are hugely dangerous to the environment. They eat anything, including household pets.

They can ruin crops, damage property, and pose a physical  threat to anyone who accidentally blunders into one. Worse, they carry diseases, including a charming malady called pseudorabies.

This could potentially devastate our domestic pork industry. Now, those who are talking about setting up 65 feral pig ranches across the state say not to worry. They will make sure none of the pigs escape. I think I told my mother that when I was raising white mice in the basement when I was a kid.

Guess what happened. Wild boars, by the way, are extremely crafty and much smarter than most animals. State Sen. John Gleason of Flushing tried to get his colleagues to wait a week and put a little more thought into this. No way, they said.

Meanwhile, across town, the Michigan League for Human Services held a fascinating program looking at our struggling middle class, a group which probably ought to qualify as an endangered species. Their panel concluded it’s all about education, and the best long-term assistance anyone can give young people is to focus on making education more available.

We are doing the opposite. Seven years ago, the average cost of college tuition was a little over seven thousand dollars. Now, it is more than ten thousand.

Meanwhile, incomes for Michiganders in their late 20s and early 30s have dropped sharply, by more than 20 percent for men, over the last quarter century. Charles Ballard, the MSU economist, noted that the more educated a state’s population is, the higher the average income -- even for blue-collar workers.

There are plenty of statistics showing that if we want a better future, we have to invest more heavily in education, and make our young people realize how important it is. Nevertheless, our lawmakers have been slashing aid to education.

I wonder if they realize that there just aren't going to be that many good-paying jobs herding feral swine.