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What Can Michigan Learn From This Italian Province to Grow Its Population?

Apr 11, 2024 | Children, Future, Growth, Michigan | 0 comments

Recently, I posted a note about the best path for Michigan to help its population grow. My best thought was to go all in for families. The recent report from Governor Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council seemed to focus on attracting individuals — that is, onesies. But families come in threesies, foursies, fivesies, etc. — a much quicker way to grow a population.

So, an article in the New York Times, What Happened When This Italian Province Invested in Babies, caught my eye. It reported on the Trentino-Alto Adige Autonomous Region, a Northern Italian area that borders on Austria. The province began implementing comprehensive family-friendly policies decades ago. What happened? Its population continues to grow while Italy’s has begun to shrink due to low birth rates.

What is Trentino doing for families that Michigan is not?

Here are a few of Trentino’s programs mentioned in the Times article:

  • Discounts on many family needs including nursery schools, baby products, groceries, health care, energy bills, transportation, after-school activities, and summer camps. 20% off for families with 3 or more children.
  • Income supplements for families with children. $2,000 per year per child plus $2,500 for those under 3.
  • Affordable day-care services, including programs certifying educators to set up small nurseries in the homes or apartments.
  • Welcome Baby backpacks “loaded with tips for new parents and picture books.”
  • Rent-stabilized housing.

A bold and detailed plan to become a family-friendly province

Wanting to know more about their programs, I found a white paper from the beginning of Trentino’s modern family and birth policies in 2007. It outlined the goal of their programs to become:

…a province that is welcoming and attractive for families and the organisations that interact with them, which is capable of offering services and incentives that meet the expectations of the families that live there, but also of those who happen to be visiting there; and which can link public policies for the support of the families with those designed for local economical and cultural development.

In 2007, the political leaders of Trentino put together a program that is stunning in its scope. The white paper lists 58 projects they intended to launch to make Trentino a “family district.” Family district is the Italian moniker for a family-friendly area. Here is a summary of what they hoped to accomplish with their projects:

1. Give families practical help, especially large ones, through tax rebates, services, special tariff policies (pricing based on family income), training, information, agreements among social parties, thus allowing the families to carry out their essential social role as easily as possible.

2. Put at the centre of each policy the right of children to a safe and protected childhood, carefully organizing family time schedules, increasing services to children, and gradually reducing their costs to families.

3. Utilise middle class families’ income support measures to relieve financial crisis. More specifically, strengthen price trend monitoring; continue with the policy of selective tariff reduction on fundamental public services and heating assistance benefits in favour of families.

4. Guarantee the right to housing through council housing, subsidized housing (housing cooperatives), regulated tenancies, special housing plans for youths, and urban policies aimed at discouraging speculation and housing market distortions.

This white paper deserves a full reading by anyone interested in how policy can help the next generation form thriving families. The 58 individual projects are thought-provoking. Because it is a thoughtful blueprint for practical action, I will be going back to it to find suggestions for Michigan’s family advocates and policymakers. It might even be worth sending a bipartisan study group of legislators there to investigate what ideas could be applied in Michigan. That would be fun.

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