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Patricia Gillespie, Ann Arbor, 2012

Unemployment Eases

The recovery gets less ragged

by James Leonard

posted 4/10/2013

After a three-year search, Priscilla Gillespie found a job in December.

When the Observer wrote about the "Ragged Recovery" in March of last year, Gillespie represented the "ragged" end: she'd been unemployed since losing her job as a medical associate in 2008. During that time, Gillespie earned an associate's degree in occupational studies from Washtenaw Community College with help from the state's No Worker Left Behind program. "They paid for my tuition and books," she says. "I am very grateful." She's also grateful to Michigan Works, the state employment agency: "I followed their plan to a T. My case manager was diligently following everything I did. I sent her the applications and the replies too."

Gillespie's job is with Teleperformance, a global customer service, technical support, call center, debt collection, and social media company associated here with Google. "The benefits are good," she said when she called to share the news, and she considers herself "blessed to start at thirteen dollars an hour."

Gillespie is not alone in her good fortune. Unemployment in Washtenaw County stood at 4.3 percent in December. That's less than half the 9.8 percent it was at the height of the Great Recession in June 2009 and back down to what it was in April 2007, and it's a sure sign of a growing recovery.

Since 2010, the number of people seeking work through the Washtenaw County's Michigan Works office has declined 23 percent, says workforce development manager Shamar Herron, from 15,782 to 12,198. Herron cautions that the local recovery depends on southeast Michigan's recovery, and the region hasn't recovered yet. But looking back on the Great Recession, Herron says, "We're close to an end. In maybe eighteen months we'll be back to the Washtenaw County that people remember."

"Like the dropping unemployment rate, some of the decline [in people registering at Michigan Works] is due to folks finding employment, and some is due to them abandoning their search," emails Mary Jo Callan, director of

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the county's office of community and economic development. Relatively few, though, are leaving the state: "Of the 700+ job seekers we helped to find employment last year, we know of seven for whom that meant leaving Michigan."

Callan writes that people are getting "all kinds [of jobs], from higher- to low-wage, from software engineers, to machine operators, to retail clerks, to housekeepers." As was the case last year, "we are still seeing many folks taking longer to find a job than we did pre-recession, but job leads have picked up and employers are definitely hiring. For many job seekers, however, re-employment means switching gears to try another line of work, and as often, adjusting expectations about the type of wages that employers are willing to pay compared to what they were making before."

Herron puts it more frankly. "The days of getting seventy thousand dollars a year for screwing in light bulbs are over. Individuals who're used to making forty or fifty dollars per hour, when they get back to work after being laid off, they're making ten or fifteen dollars per hour. You have to have an advanced skill set. Some industries can't hire fast enough: scientist, technician, information technology, health care, hands on and administration, any advanced technology."

Those aren't the only skills needed. "Machinists are in huge demand," Herron continues. "A welder who can weld aluminum is worth his weight in gold. Skilled trades are a wide-open market: electrician, plumber, Roto-Rooter [operator]--they're all equally needed, if not more, than jobs for college graduates. Four years of college isn't for everyone, nor it is necessary. You can go to community college to learn a skill like information technology. IT is in high demand, and they don't care about background."

That's the way it worked out for Gillespie at Teleperformance. "I have no knowledge of technology. I started in tech support, but I had difficulty with that--I'm over fifty, [and] I'm usually the customer calling in for assistance." She asked if she could move to "return merchandise authorization," and that's where she is now, working an afternoon shift from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Despite the hours, Gillespie says she's "really happy to be back in the workforce again. It's awesome. I have no interest in leaving."

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This article has been edited since it appeared in the April 2013 Ann Arbor Observer. The month when unemployment reached 4.3 percent has been corrected.    (end of article)

[Originally published in April, 2013.]

 


On April 10, 2013, wrote:
Whateverrrrrrr, try getting a new job at 58!! Went to college, worked too. Lost job, finished college and now I work 14 hours a week at 9 per. After countless job apps. and interviews. They don't want us older folk.

 
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