Michigan's February jobless rate falls below 9% for 1st time since recession

Posted on March 29, 2012

Michigan’s unemployment rate in February dropped below 9% for the first time since before the state plunged into recession some four years ago. The February rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 8.8%.

“For a number of years, Michigan’s jobless rate remained well above the national rate. However, as of February 2012, the state’s unemployment rate was only a half percentage point above the U.S. rate,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “The professional and business service sector in Michigan has recently displayed significant momentum, adding jobs in February for the seventh-consecutive month.”

A declining rate does not mean that all is well in the state’s job market. The broadest measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time work, hovered around 17% in February.

Yet, at the same time, a mismatch between job openings and skilled candidates continued. The state’s online jobs bank is averaging about 76,000 available positions every month, even though the number of unemployed Michiganders in February totaled an estimated 409,000. Some economists say this means that many of the unemployed lack the necessary skills to fill the more technical jobs.

The previous time that Michigan’s jobless rate dropped below 9% was in September 2008, when it stood at 8.9% going into the national recession.

Clearly, Michigan’s recovery, led by its manufacturers, has been more robust than the national recovery, although the state started from a much lower level. Since a year ago, the state’s jobless rate has dropped nearly two full percentage points, while the national jobless rate decreased by seven-tenths of a percentage point over this period.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the improving rate stems from many advances in the state’s economic performance.

“It’s not just the auto industry, it’s the new spirit of entrepreneurship we are seeing returning to Michigan that is helping drive our better-than-national rate of job growth,” Baruah said.

By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press