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Report: Unemployment Rate Masks MI's Aging, Shrinking Workforce

Michigan's jobless rate is now 3.7 percent, but fewer people are working today than in 2000. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
Michigan's jobless rate is now 3.7 percent, but fewer people are working today than in 2000. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
September 4, 2017

LANSING, Mich. -- This Labor Day, while Michigan's unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest point in years, analysts say that isn't all good news. Much of the decline, they say, is due to a loss of workers.

Michigan's workforce reached its peak of just over 5 million people in 2000, but a new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows it has shrunk by 326,000 since then.

Peter Ruark, senior policy analyst with the League, said there are many reasons people leave the workforce, including disability and retirement. But he said it is particularly troubling that the state has seen a big decline in the number of workers ages 16 to 24.

"We know that Michigan's population is aging, and that even though workers are staying in the workforce longer and retiring later, they eventually will retire,” Ruark said. "So, we need skilled, younger workers to be able to replace them."

To boost the size of the workforce and cater to both older and younger workers, the report recommended increasing Michigan's minimum wage, protecting the state's Medicaid expansion, making higher education more affordable, and helping single parents get the support and training they need to find and keep good jobs.

Ruark said while the state also needs to address the large number of university graduates who leave Michigan to work elsewhere, many young Michiganders aren't currently working or in college - and they need more options.

"There are many training programs that offer certificates, licenses; there are two-year degrees at the community colleges,” he said. "Those provide skills that can get people into the workforce and earning a livable salary."

The full report, including jobless rate data for each county in the state, is available on the Michigan League for Public Policy website.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI