Jobs up, poverty declines as Michigan emerges from Great Recession hangover

In the past five years, total employment and personal income have grown by double-digits in Michigan, while poverty has plunged. But not all news is good. (Shutterstock image)


Michigan’s economy has long centered on manufacturing — especially automobiles. But reliance on a single industry produces boom and bust cycles. Nowadays, Michigan is enjoying a boom and has mostly recovered from the Great Recession.

Total employment grew by nearly 10 percent from 2014 to 2019, while total personal income grew by 12 percent over the same period.

Here’s a look at some numbers that shape the economy:

  • Michigan jobs grew 5 percent from 2015 to 4.8 million now. Unemployment has fallen from 10 percent in 2011 to just 4.1 percent in 2019 (3.6 nationally).
  • Total statewide personal income ($484 billion) and per capita income ($48,423) in 2018 have both grown about 12 percent since 2014. 
  • Michigan’s total gross domestic product grew 11 percent from 2014 to 2018 to $527.1 billion, 14th in the nation.
  • As of December 2019, Michigan ranks 37th for labor force participation (61.7 percent; 63.2 percent nationally) among residents 16 and older. Michigan has an estimated 6,700 job openings in the skilled trades annually through 2022. 
  • Property values are climbing, up 12.7 percent between 2015 and 2019 with the value of all real property estimated at $429.7 billion after losing billions of dollars from 2008 to 2016.
  • Recovery is uneven across the state. Cities like Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit have added tens of thousands of jobs since 2012, while older cities like Flint and Saginaw and rural communities suffer.

(The numbers are from before the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted more than 2 million residents to file for temporary unemployment benefits, but also caused personal incomes to spike because of federal stimulus payments."

A closer look at jobs

Statewide, economists project strong job growth in professional and business services (37,000 more jobs) and construction (11,000 more jobs). 

In addition, the education and health services sector has added 60,000 jobs since 2008. But, in some cases (such as lower-level health-care service jobs for an aging population) growing job sectors have considerably lower wages than Michigan’s past manufacturing glory.

One challenge is the state’s aging workforce. One in 5 workers is over 55. That also creates opportunity: In a well-paying field like tool-and-die work, the loss of so many older specialists is creating demand. Nearly three-quarters of tool-and-die workers are over 45.

Poverty down

The robust economy in Michigan has reduced poverty. During the height of the recession, it was 17 percent but had declined to 14.1 percent by 2018.

By some measures, though, the number of working poor is increasing. According to the United Way of Michigan, the percentage of working families who struggled to meet the basic costs of living grew substantially. More than 950,000 Michigan households have wage earners, but are considered working poor with few assets and constrained incomes. 

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