Labor Day

Sep 5, 2011

I hope you are out on a boat listening to this. Or getting ready for a barbecue, or working in the garden, or doing something you feel like doing. Depending on the weather, I may be playing soccer with my Australian Shepherd right now.

He, by the way, will win easily. But while I hope you are relaxing, I hope even more that you have a job to go back to tomorrow. Far too many people don’t.

True, the unemployment rate is down from last year, but it is still over ten percent in Michigan, which is far too high. And there’s something that worries me more than the numbers.

And that’s the number of adults in the prime of life who have been unemployed for a long time -- six months or more. That’s the most on record, according to the Michigan League for Human Services, and they should know. They’ve been trying to help folks in difficult circumstances for almost a century.

The non-partisan, non-profit league has a new report out on the unemployed in Michigan, which you can find on their website. It isn’t exactly light late summer reading, but it’s important nevertheless.

What it says is that fifty-five percent of all the unemployed between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four have been jobless for more than half a year. Those are people who are most likely to have kids and car and house payments.

The numbers show, by the way, an especially dramatic jump in long-term unemployment of white workers who were once middle class.  Added to this is that among those who are working, the number in low-wage jobs has dramatically increased, from a fifth of the work force in 2006 to more than a fourth today.

This all comes at a time when Michigan is preparing to cut the number of weeks the jobless can get unemployment benefits from twenty-six weeks to twenty, and when it has become harder and more expensive to go to college or get needed additional training.

The one thing, by the way, that stands out from these statistics is that the more education you have, the less likely you are to be unemployed. I also have to tell you that while I genuinely feel for those out of work, my concern does have an element of selfishness.

How can we who still have jobs feel happy and secure when we are surrounded by many desperate people?  Michigan has many thousands of people who graduated from high school, or perhaps not even that, and found good-paying jobs that required few skills. Those jobs are gone now, and they are never coming back. Many of the people who held those jobs have no idea what happened, or why.

If they ask someone like me, we are likely to give them an explanation involving complex forces and globalization. But what if they hear other voices telling them they were unfairly taken away by illegal immigrants and minorities?

Which are they most likely to believe?  It is right that those of us who do work  take a moment to relax on Labor Day. But tomorrow, we should think about doing whatever we can to make sure more people have jobs to go back to this time next year.