Press "Enter" to skip to content

Michigan’s unemployment rate provides valuable direction

Labor statistics are always interesting. Michigan’s unemployment numbers for the month of April were released last week. While national unemployment remained steady, Michigan’s unemployment rate declined. It’s currently at 4.3%. Michigan employers added a total of 19,000 jobs last month and eliminated 5,000, for a net increase of 14,000 new positions. Unfortunately, the state has not fully recovered from the pandemic. Michigan’s unemployment rate in February 2020 was 3.8%.

That’s all good news, but as usual, the devil is in the details. The sectors that gained the most – leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and professional and business services sector – give a window into jobs that will see the most growth. A recent analysis of the occupations that will experience the most growth through 2028 is a mixed bag. Five of the ten largest-growth occupations require no specific training, while one of the top 10 requires just a short-term certificate.
This is not good news. The average annual income for the five high-growth, non-skilled occupations was just over $27,000. That’s about $13 per hour. The short-term certificate position averages $16.25 per hour. Keep in mind that these are not starting wages; they’re the median incomes for these positions. (Half of people in these positions make less than the median income.)

It’s easy to see why the demand for workers is high. It’s also easy to see why there are so many of these jobs available. The likelihood that these jobs will ever pay a living wage is nil. Michigan either needs fewer of these jobs, or these employers need to up their game a bit.

Use unemployment rate data to counter enrollment declines

For the four growth positions that do not involve wage slavery, the average annual income is $78,000 ($37.50/hr). Of course, they all require bachelor’s degrees. However, there are two-year analog credentials for the four high wage positions: nursing, software development, marketing and industrial engineering. Community colleges in Michigan would do well to develop (or redevelop) and market these programs to incoming students.

“Marketing” might include developing specific admissions criteria, financial aid packages, and services that provide academic, technology and employment assistance. In other words, actually recruit students into these specific programs.

With enrollment in a nose-dive, you might be wondering where to find students. Well, just as there are 10 careers that are super-hot, there are also 10 careers that are super-not. Not surprisingly, nine of the ten are non-skilled positions. The problem is that the average median income for these nine jobs is $39,100. That’s $19 per hour. The 30,000 high-demand jobs we will gain pay one-third less than the 54,000 low-demand jobs we will lose.

The low-demand positions we’ll lose include positions in assembly and fabrication; retail sales; office clerks; secretaries and administrative assistants; customer service representatives; cashiers; inspectors; bookkeepers; mail carriers; and executive secretaries and administrative assistants.

So, the marching orders for community colleges should be clear, if anyone is paying attention to the unemployment rate. Recruit students from industries that are most likely to lose jobs to retrain before they lose their higher-paying yet low-skilled jobs. Just as with the high-demand positions, recruit students using financial aid packages, and services that provide academic, technology and employment assistance.

Community college administrators need to stop wringing their hands and watching their enrollment drop. It’s time to do something about it.

Photo Credit: Idaho National Laboratory, via Flickr