Things are looking up, Michigan jobs survey finds

Posted on March 8, 2012

Michigan’s unemployment rate continued to move in the right direction in January, dropping three-tenths of a percentage point to 9%, the lowest rate in more than three years, according to data released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

A survey of statewide employers showed that Michigan added 19,000 jobs during January, led by a 16,000-job surge in manufacturing, which included 8,000 jobs in the automotive sector, according to the seasonally adjusted data released by the state.

Among those hiring lately is Livonia-based Roush Enterprises, which has 142 job openings today, up from 66 at the start of the year. Kris Munroe, the company’s director of human resources, said the hiring boost is driven by increases in business in the auto, defense and entertainment industries.

Roush is looking to hire all kinds of engineers, as well as machinists, designers, mold makers and other professionals. Roush provides engineering, prototyping, testing and manufacturing in a variety of fields. It makes powertrain modules, precision plastic products for life science companies, vehicles for theme park rides and other products.

With the improvement in the job market, Munroe said it has become much more challenging to find the talent the company needs.

“It used to be an employers’ market,” Munroe said. “Now it’s much more an employees’ market.”

The Michigan jobless rate in January 2012 was nearly 2 full percentage points below the state’s January 2011 rate of 10.9%. The January rate was the lowest since 8.9% in September 2008.

“Michigan’s labor market situation continued to improve into early 2012,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. “With the rate decline in January, Michigan’s unemployment rate has fallen by around 5 full percentage points since the end of the national recession in mid-2009.”

It is yet another sign lately of the improving Michigan and U.S. economies in the wake of the great recession.

In recent weeks and months, consumer confidence has notched up, home sales in Michigan and across the country have picked up and auto sales have increased compared with last year.

The stock market, too, has been on a tear since the start of the year.

But the specters of increasing gas prices, tensions with Iran and European debt have tempered the enthusiasm.

The national unemployment numbers for February will be released Friday. Michigan’s January numbers were released later than normal because of an annual resetting of employment data. Michigan’s February jobless rate will be released March 28.

Charles Ballard, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, said the economic recovery appears significant, even if the job market still has a way to go for full recovery.

“The job market is gaining momentum,” he said Wednesday. “It’s a lot stronger than it was last summer. If European debt doesn’t spin out of control, and if we can avoid a war in the Middle East, this could be the best year for the economy since 2005.”

Many things contribute to a lower jobless rate, but part of the reason has to do with the shrinking size of Michigan’s work force, which by itself tends to lower the jobless rate.

During the past 12 months, an estimated 46,000 people left the work force in Michigan.

Economists have debated where those people went. Ballard said several theories have been offered, and that probably all play some part. The theories include retirements by baby boomers, sometimes in response to buyouts and layoffs, and the idea that people are returning to school to get new training because jobs are scarce.

Other reasons may include shrinkage in the number of twenty-somethings entering the work force because of lower birth rates, and a sharp rise in the number of older workers receiving disability payments, which takes them out of the work force.

John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press