PROJECTThe Future of the Great Lakes Region


The Great Lakes region—home to 50 million people in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin—has become a fixture in our national political discourse. Many of the country’s social, economic, and political challenges are being played out here. 

After a decade of job loss, demographic shifts, and falling household incomes, evidence suggests that the area has strong foundations capable of sustaining future growth. By building on these strengths, the Great Lakes region can rewrite its Rust Belt narrative as a story of resurgence.

Urban’s Future of the Great Lakes project involved an in-depth investigation of trends and projections and an analysis of strategies and policy recommendations for opportunity and economic mobility. Our trends and projections analysis included the following:

  • The Future of the Great Lakes framing paper, our comprehensive analysis of social and economic trends, coupled with projections on how those trends will play out between now and 2040; it also offers policy and philanthropic strategies that could help the region manage its challenges and set a path toward growth and long-term prosperity

  • blog post discussing this research

  • Fact sheets (below) for each of the six states, highlighting recent economic trends and projecting future change

  • A background paper providing detailed demographic analysis and projections for the region

Our analysis strategies and policy recommendations for building ladders of opportunity and economic mobility for young people in the region can be found in five issue-specific briefs, a brief synthesizing these recommendations, and a short overview. The brief topics are as follows:

The in-depth policy analyses and recommendations in these briefs shed light on what needs to be done and what decisionmakers can do to invest in young people and ensure broad-based prosperity and a high quality of life in the Great Lakes region for coming generations.

This work was funded by the Joyce Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. 

The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of Urban experts. Further information on the Urban Institute’s funding principles is available at  

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Economic mobility and inequality
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center