Why you should care if your neighbor doesn't have a job

Apr 15, 2014

Men work on a WPA construction project during the Great Depression
Men work on a WPA construction project during the Great Depression
Credit Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

In Michigan, 60.2% of people are in the labor force, according to a new state report.

The number is essentially unchanged from a year ago.

University of Michigan economist Don Grimes says at least 67% of Michigan's population should be in the labor force this many years after a recession.

He says people in their 20s, and people in their mid to late 50s, are having the most trouble finding work, both in Michigan and nationwide.

The trend is certainly not good for the jobless people; studies show long-term unemployment takes a huge toll on lifetime earnings. 

And the trend isn't good for the economy.

"We in this country are going to need those people working," says Grimes. "We're going to need their income, and the tax revenue from their income, going forward. Otherwise, we're going to be supporting the people who are not working, in one way or another."

Grimes says the private sector isn't expanding fast enough to solve the problem.

He thinks the most effective intervention would likely be a federal job creation program, similar to the one used after the Great Depression.

Federally supported jobs could help keep people's skills fresh – or give them new ones – which they could then use to re-enter the private workforce later.