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State caught in troubling jobless trend

Almost half of Michigan's unemployed in 2012 were jobless for at least six months. And the average jobless Michigan resident went without work for more than 10 months.

As Michigan’s economy improves and job openings proliferate, a troubling trend is revealing itself in kitchen-table stories and government analyses:

The long-term jobless may be in danger of becoming the unemployable.

“I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve sent out,” said Lauren Lucas, 54, who lost her job last April as the assistant director of a retirement community in Livonia. “I’ve even applied at McDonald’s. I’m that desperate.” (After Lucas applied online, she was told she would be contacted if McDonald’s was interested. She said it wasn’t.)

Lucas, who lives in Canton, is one of about 4.8 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months — the federal government’s definition of long-term unemployment.

In Michigan, 42 percent of unemployed workers between December 2011 and November 2012 were out of work for at least 27 weeks, according to state labor market statistics.

The average unemployed worker in the state during that time period was jobless for 42 weeks.

Long-term unemployment has started to ease a bit as the economy has slowly improved. In February, 40.2 percent of U.S. jobless workers had been unemployed for more than six months, but the percentage of long-term unemployed workers is still far above recent pre-recession years. The rate, for example, was as low as 10 percent in the early 2000s.

And at least some of the recent decline in the number of people who have been out of work for an extended period is a result of many who have given up looking for work and are no longer counted in government statistics.

An analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston late last year found that the jobs market isn’t working in a typical fashion for those with months of joblessness. Those beyond the 27-week jobless mark appear to be seeing little or no benefit as the economy adds jobs.

And while the traditional government response to high unemployment numbers is skills training, the Boston Fed authors wrote, “Considering all the evidence together, we conclude that (the relationship between available jobs and unemployment) is likely being driven by something other than a mismatch between workers’ skills and the demands of available jobs."

Jobless for most of  four years

Vic Doucette, 56, hasn't had steady full-time work since his hours as a copy editor were cut two weeks before Christmas in 2008. After further cuts, he left that job for a five-month full-time contract in March 2012 that was terminated after just four weeks. He said being unemployed for so long makes him feel useless and unfulfilled. Vic Doucette, 56, who has not been able to find full-time work since being laid off from his copy editor job two weeks before Christmas in 2009, said being unemployed for so long makes him feel useless and unfulfilled.

Another program, “Shifting Code,” pays to train underemployed or unemployed technical workers that can help them find jobs in high-demand information technology careers.

Corla Scott entered the program about a year ago to upgrade her IT skills and become a software developer.

She said she heard about Shifting Code through Ann Arbor Spark, an economic development agency, after being laid off by a mortgage company.

“I had a skill set nobody was looking for,” said Scott, 49, of Ann Arbor. “I needed a way to get back into today’s programming. I knew this was a game-changer for me.”

She took a 15-week software development program at Wayne County Community College and landed a full-time job as software developer at Compuware in Detroit last June.

“I’m not a contractor; I’m an employee,” Scott said with pride.

For some displaced IT workers, starting their own businesses might make sense because many IT companies depend on contract workers, said Chris Knapp, director of the information technology cluster at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

“There’s a huge entrepreneurial aspect to IT,” Knapp said. “It’s a great way to get into it.”

The state, using mostly federal funds, also can pay up to 90 percent of the wages of long-term unemployed workers hired by companies while they undergo job training, said Gary Clark, director of talent development services at the state Workforce Development Agency.

Doucette and Lucas say they’ve used some of the state’s services in trying to find employment, but said those services have not helped them overcome what they believe is rampant discrimination against older unemployed workers.


Lucas says she’s growing desperate to find a job as she has nearly exhausted her unemployment benefits. Last year, Michigan cut the benefit period from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. The maximum weekly benefit is $362.

“We’re living on my husband’s retirement. That’s it,” she said. “When my unemployment runs out, we’re in a world of trouble.”

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