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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Fri, 03/15/2013 - 2:43pm
You edited this article to remove stronger references to age discrimination. Why? Ageism is a huge problem in our youth-oriented society. It is illegal, but employers still get away with it, and will continue to practice it unless attention is drawn to it. Doucette's comment about younger professionals not wanting to hire older employees because it would be like hiring their dad was spot on. We need to acknowledge the ageism issue, not cover it up.
Vic Doucette
Sun, 03/17/2013 - 2:21pm
I am one of the people written about in the piece and am mentioned in Cherie W. Rolfe's comment. This is my take on the story. Rick Hagland approached me via Facebook for permission to interview me for this story; I gave my permission. We spoke for about an hour and I told him many, many stories. I saw this story when it was first published and noted a couple of minor errors toward the top of the story. I alerted Rick to them. Knowing of my 14 years as a newspaper copy editor, he suggested that I write the corrected version of what was published. I did so and sent it to Rick. The incorrect material was struck and my corrections were added to the piece. When I went to look at the revised piece, I noticed that, as you mentioned, my quotes and references to age discrimination were removed from the piece. I do not know why this was done, but I don't blame Rick Haglund for it. It was likely done by somebody in the editing chain and not by Rick himself. Here's a story I told Rick during the interview. It was not specifically mentioned in the piece, but does bring up the age discrimination issue quite well. I applied for a copy editing position at an advertising agency in the Detroit area several years ago. I sent a resume and passed the phone interview, so i was invited down to the agency for a meeting. While there, I was given a fiendishly difficult editing test, with copy far worse than anything you'd ever see in a professional setting. I was given a fairly short time to correct the material; I suspect this was an effort to test my mettle as an editor. I completed the test within the allotted time and handed it back to the woman who interviewed me. She ran the department and would supervise the new hire. She looked the test over and told me that I had gotten a perfect score, finding every mistake and correcting them appropriately. She hired someone else. Why did she do this? I don't know, but the decision couldn't have been based on editing ability. She might have had other candidates who also got a perfect score, but nobody could have done better than perfect. Something else made her decide not to hire me. Did I mention that she was 20-25 years younger than I was? I figure that she either didn't want to supervise somebody old enough to be her father, or she thought that I would threaten her job security and show her up. I'm only guessing, but it smells like age discrimination to me. There have been a few other instances where I was interviewed by folks much younger than I am and didn't get hired. Again, I'm only guessing, but it's really tough to get hired when you're 56.