Mich. Report Highlights "Serious Concerns" Regarding Jobs, Poverty

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A new report issued by the Michigan League for Human Services on Friday has delved more deeply into the state's declining unemployment rate. The study, dubbed the "Labor Day Report," looked beyond basic unemployment statistics to determine what the entire employment outlook was for the state's residents, including the numbers of those who are underemployed or receiving wages that keep them below the poverty line.

Researchers found that while the state's reported unemployment rate has been on the decline since reaching a peak of 14.2 percent in August 2009, that decline hasn't translated into more or better-paying jobs for Michigan workers. They say that different statistics, such as the gender gap in paid wages or the number of families that are living in poverty, point to a troubling downgrade in the way that Michigan residents have actually been living.

Here is some of the key information to emerge from Michigan's Labor Day Report on Friday.

* A report by MLive on Friday pointed out that unemployment statistics do not take into account merely those who are collecting unemployment benefits, but all those age 16 and over in the state that are able to work but do not have jobs.

* Michigan's official unemployment rate currently stands at 9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately 4.7 million people are currently employed in Michigan.

* The Labor Day Report highlighted five issues that the analysts believed were of particular significance when assessing the state's overall employment outlook. Those five factors included the number of "lost" workers (those that had left the workforce), the state's employment-to-population ratio, the fact that a smaller percentage of black workers are employed as compared to other racial groups, the high number of Michigan families who live in poverty, and the high number of Michigan jobs that provide wages too low to enable people to lift themselves or their families out of poverty.

* According to the report, the number of "lost" workers that have exited the workforce entirely now outnumbers the percentage of those who are counted as being unemployed. Factors that account for someone being labeled a "lost" worker in terms of the state's workforce include: retirement, migration of able workers out of state, and workers that have stopped looking for work.

* Also of concern is the "labor force participation rate," which gives the percentage of those age 16 and over in the state that are counted as either employed or officially unemployed. In 2000, the Labor Day report stated that that percentage stood at 68.7 percent. In 2011, that number stood at just 60.1 percent.

* Michigan also has the highest percentage of families living in poverty in the Midwest, at 1 in 10, as well as one of the largest gaps in wages between genders, with men making an average of $3.84 more an hour. The state also has a heavily underemployed workforce, with a full 25 percent of those employed in the state earning a wage of $10.39 an hour or less for their work, according to the Labor Day Report.

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in politics and public issues.

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