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Good numbers not so good in NE Michigan

January 27, 2011 - Steve Murch
The numbers are in and for Northeast Michigan they aren't good. But we already suspected they wouldn't be.

Last week the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth released the unemployment figures for December and overall the numbers for the state were encouraging, with the lowest rate since January 2009. The Detroit and Flint markets really drove the decline as the rate for the metro area went from 12 percent in November to 11.1 in December, and Flint went from 12.5 percent to 11.7. Those numbers are high, but they are going in the right direction.

Northeast Michigan? The numbers are going up. The area, which is defined as Alcona, Alpena, Cheboygan, Crawford, Iosco, Montmorency, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle and Roscommon counties, went from 14.6 to 14.8 percent. If there is a silver lining — and that is a stretch when that many people are unemployed — it's that December 2009's rate was 18.1.

A deeper look at the numbers shows the workforce is dwindling at an alarming rate. The labor force dropped 1.5 percent from November to December — 1,300 people in the labor pool in our area. Northeast Michigan isn't that populated, so having that many fewer people to hire is just as disturbing as the high unemployment rate. The drop in the past 12 months was nearly 6 percent, with 5,200 fewer people in the labor force.

Did they move, retire or quit looking? Retirement is one thing, but moving hurts the area in terms of money from the state (what money from the state?). Those who quit looking are even more troubling because they've given up hope, and hope is the one thing all human beings need in some form.

For the year, the entire northern part of the state took a hit. While the average unemployment rate for the state dropped from 13.6 in 2009 to 13.1 in 2010, the three areas in the north defined by the state — Northeast Lower Michigan, Northwest Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula — all rose from 2009 to 2010. NE Michigan went from 15.6 to 15.9 for the yearly average (the highest rate in the state), NW Michigan went from 13.5 to 14.1, and the Upper Peninsula went from 12.2 to 12.6.

Four of the seven counties with the highest unemployment rates, all over 17 percent are in Northeast Michigan — Presque Isle, Montmorency, Alcona and Oscoda counties. The other four are in the Upper Peninsula. The paradox in the U.P. is that two counties are in the top 10 in terms of the lowest rate — Menominee and Marquette counties.

Gov. Rick Snyder put jobs as priority No. 1. While the sheer numbers of unemployed in the higher population areas dictate concentrated efforts in those markets, northern Michigan can't be ignored. Our rates continue to rise while the rest of the state is at least inching lower. Too much emphasis downstate may push northern Michigan to the breaking point.

It could be argued that if jobs come to Michigan eventually everyone one will be helped by it. The counter-argument is if it takes too long there might not be enough people in the north to feel the effects. We need something before the exodus of people renders the north more of an afterthought that it normally is.


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