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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

Michigan jobless hits 15.3%

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

It wasn't exactly a high point for the economy of Michigan's Lenawee County when, one day last year, the CEOs of the foundering Detroit Three carmakers took a lashing from Congress for flying to Washington on separate private jets.

Auto employment in the county, as elsewhere, was about to take a bigger dip.

And local suppliers to the aircraft industry were also in for a world of hurt as orders for corporate jets dived in response to economic conditions and bad publicity, said Jim Gartin, chief executive of nonprofit Lenawee Economic Development Corp.

Now, however, employers in both sectors of the county's manufacturing-heavy economy have begun to stop cutting jobs and even adding a few workers, he said.

"I'm not saying we're on a straight uphill climb," he added. "But we definitely feel we've hit bottom."

That was also the official line statewide yesterday as Michigan's Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth reported that joblessness rose slightly in September to 15.3 percent from 15.2 percent in August and 8.9 percent in September, 2008. However, the losses have appeared to moderate, the agency claimed.

"Michigan's unemployment rate was largely unchanged in September, as a modest recall of auto workers from temporary layoff was countered by job losses in the service sector," wrote Rick Waclawek, the department's labor market chief.

The rate has been stagnant since reaching 15.2 percent in June.

The situation remains grim, for sure. Michigan seems in little danger of giving up the dubious distinction of having the highest jobless rate in the nation. Last month, 4,000 more workers joined unemployment rolls, boosting the number of jobless workers there to 740,000 out of a work force of 4.8 million. That is 70 percent more unemployed people than a year earlier.

And Michigan's jobless rate is well above the national average of 9.8 percent. Ohio won't report its September jobless rate until tomorrow, but the figure

was 10.8 percent in August.

Numbers for Michigan counties won't be available until late next week. They fell slightly in August in areas bordering northwest Ohio to 14.9 percent in Monroe County, 16.5 percent in Lenawee County, and 17.8 percent in Hillsdale.

The comparable rate for Lucas County was 12.4 percent.

"The Michigan unemployment rate is god-awful high," said Dana Johnson, economist with Comerica Bank, which has a heavy presence in the state.

"But I don't think it's going to shoot a lot higher. We're at the very beginning stages of an economic recovery. Jobs aren't growing yet, but they probably will be in six months."

The Monroe office of the job agency Michigan Works has seen a slight boost in job openings, primarily in retail and the service sector but also in manufacturing. "It hasn't been a great increase, but it has lightened up a bit," said Doug Kuras, economic and community development specialist.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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